The Play What I Wrote

MARK NICHOLLS Norwich Theatre Royal


All the old Morecambe and Wise gags were there, with the spirits of Eric and Ernie alive and well.

And this hilarious, ever-popular tribute to Britain's greatest comedy double act fittingly brought the house down in Norwich. Adapted jokes reflected the great moments from Morecambe and Wise's career, as Joseph Alessi and Ben Keaton were the very reincarnations of the comics.

At moments they were clad in dressing gowns sitting in bed together or propped up on the sofa in their flat.

Props were frequently improperly used; bad acting techniques and awful lines from Ernie's “brilliant” plays peppered the performance

The Play What I Wrote uses the vehicle of Ernie's appalling plays to convey this Morecambe and Wise tribute and in keeping with the little man's tradition, featured a household celebrity, willing to be ridiculed, insulted, assaulted, abused, used and, in the case of last night's star Nigel Havers – unceremoniously executed.

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The simplistic humour was ever-present, slapstick one-liners that have gone down in comic legend. The visual jokes, the 70s sets, even the paper-bag trick and harmonica made the show.

In much more than a supporting role, Toby Sedgewick was rubber-legged, rubber-faced and hilarious as the fall-guy in what was one of the funniest shows seen in the city for years.

Before going on stage, Nigel Havers said he had asked to be the guest star in Norwich, with his long-standing family connections to the area. He has been a regular on stage in the city but his connections with Norfolk go back way beyond his acting days.

His father – the late Michael Havers, former Lord Chancellor and Attorney General – was the Recorder of Norwich from 1968 to 1971. And there is a street named Havers Road in Mile Cross after his ancestor Francis Curtis Havers, who was a public figure in Norwich in the early part of the 20th century.

He has affectionately recalled visits to Norwich and the cathedral, where he spent time in his youth on Norfolk holidays, once saying: “I love coming to Norwich. It's just like coming home.”

As an actor, he appeared at the Theatre Royal in Art, one of the most successful plays in British theatre.

Yet he has a long and distinguished career as an actor, always popular with the ladies with his “posh and desirable” manner. He was the roguish philanderer in The Charmer, starred in Manchild, the classic film Chariots of Fire and in the uppercrust role he was made for, as AJ Raffles, the thief who relieved women of their jewellery while charming London's Edwardian society in Gentleman Thief. In recent years, he has popped up from time to time in The Play What I Wrote and was rapturously received in Norwich.

Havers, 54, said: “I don't rehearse for it, there's not much point as I have to unlearn everything that I have done in 35 years of acting for this. At the same time, it's not easy.”

The star performed obediently to the one-liners, graciously accepting a warning from Alessi that he had a “black belt in Nintendo” – a subtle update on Eric's karate belt in ludo.

The performance runs throughout the week and there will be more surprises for ticket holders. Havers returns to the West End tonight in the See You Next Tuesday opposite Father Ted star Ardal O'Hanlon and Patsy Kensit at the Albery Theatre.

Big names are already among the surprise guests for the rest of the run in the city and tour managers assure theatregoers there won't be “a guest weathergirl in sight”.

This was a performance packed with humour in the great tradition of Morecambe and Wise, yet also with a degree of respect and poignancy.

It brought more than a little sunshine to Norwich on a bleak wintry evening.

t The Play What I Wrote continues at Norwich Theatre Royal until January 24. Box office: 01603 630000.

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