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Eric and Little Ern: Theatre review - 'funny and affecting'

Vaudeville Theatre, London

This piece has none of the mad originality of The Play What I Wrote, the whimsical hall-of-mirrors meta-tribute show to Morecambe and Wise that was a big hit in the West End a decade ago.

It is, however, very funny and affecting and manifestly a labour of love by its deviser/performers, Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel, who manage to recreate everything about their comic heroes with uncanny accuracy and finesse – the mannerisms, the warmth of rapport with the audience, and the sweet spirit of benignly innocent tomfoolery.

The format is contrived and the show feels a bit slight.  It's 1999 and Ernie is gravely ill in a Slough hospital.  The white-coated doctor turns out to be the revenant Eric, who died of a heart attack fifteen years earlier and has now come to whisk his partner off for one last performance in the great variety theatre in the sky (cue the red curtain). 

In the first half, the joins between the CV-style reminiscences and the jokes are sometimes more glaring than any in Ernie's wig arrangement.  But in the classic material by Eddie Braben – the Greig Piano Concerto Sketch, say – the actors beautifully fall into the dynamic of deluded, pompous oaf and attention-seeking clown that he created for them.  You have the giddy out-of-time illusion that you are watching the legendary double-act live.

To 12 January; 0844 482 9675