In May 1984 Eric Morecambe gave the turn of his life and took six curtain calls at the Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury, before suffering a heart attack moments later backstage.
With his final words to the audience being Thats your lot! there might have been something incredibly poetic about his death, had it not occurred at the tragically young age of 58.
Following on from this moment, Tim Whitnalls one-man show Morecambe, first seen at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, shows Eric Morecambe arriving at the ‘theatre in the sky’.
Under a proscenium arch sporting his trademark spectacles and pipe amidst its motifs, Eric unpacks his props, dusts off the couch and drinks trolley, and proceeds to relate the story of his life, recalling his journey from Lancashire lad to Britains best love comedian.
That the show comes across as so straight forward only reveals how cleverly it has been constructed, and how well Bob Golding pulls off the part of Eric Morecambe. There is something breathtakingly effortless in the way that he flits between addressing the audience in a storytelling manner, putting on a direct performance as he utters the comedy lines, and impersonating the other characters who crop up in Erics life.
Indeed, as Golding fiddles with his glasses and clutches at his lapels, all with the goofy grin that alludes to so much more, he ceases to play a part and, quite simply, becomes Eric Morecambe.
Just as intriguing, however, is the way that Erics partner of nearly fifty years, Ernie Wise, is portrayed as a ventriloquists dummy that Eric operates. Since the show reveals just how close the pair was, this form of portrayal was probably chosen simply because it supported the one-man show concept. In another sense, however, it does imply that Ernie was merely a puppet within the duo, in that I doubt anyone would consider making a West End show just about him.
Structurally, the show is sometimes too smooth as the short bursts of singing and dancing feel as measured out as the rest of the script. It could perhaps do with a few more moments when Morecambe can really indulge in a full blown, all-singing, all-dancing routine.
In addition, whilst many comic geniuses have inner demons, Erics seem surprisingly straight forward when compared with Tony Hancocks. For Morecambe, making people laugh was so much second nature, that his fear of failure was simply the fear of not having the opportunities to do just that. As a result, though we feel for him when we learn that he never really conquered America and that his films were largely flops, there is not quite enough tragedy here from a dramatic perspective, given that he was such a tremendous success.
Nevertheless, Morecambe remains an intelligent and entertaining show, and as the audience applauds Erics famous All the right notes line, and laughs before he has even performed his paper bag trick, it feels like a highly fitting tribute to one of Britains best loved comedians. If only he hadnt died so young.