Theatre Review: Morecambe, starring Bob Golding

Showing at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until Sunday, October 3. Review by ANGELA SINGER.

IN 1977, 28 million people watched the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special – half the population of Britain.

Astonishing. What on earth was the other half doing? Maybe they didn’t have television sets. There simply was no competition.

Bob Golding has set himself the impossible task of playing the late Eric Morecambe – Britain’s best loved comedian. We all felt he belonged to us, each one of us personally – and he gave himself to us until his last breath. His third and fatal heart attack took him one night, just as he left the stage. He was aged 58.

This endearing play, written by Tim Whitnall and directed by Guy Masterson, is beautifully crafted from material used by Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise over the 40 years they were together. Telling the story of the partnership, it contrasts the humour with the poignancy. They agreed from the start they would share the money they earned 50-50, no matter who got the laughs. When Eric had his first heart attack, Ernie was devastated. While Eric was recovering, Ernie saved half of everything he earned to give to him.

On stage and in the public eye, they were great mates and good family men – off stage, guess what, they were exactly the same. Decent people, honest and professional, they decided early in their careers they would never tell a gag that they themselves did not find funny. Eric believed that laughter is a lasting gift that you can give someone. He could never bring himself to withhold that gift – even when he knew he should have retired.

Bob Golding cannot be Eric Morecambe and at the very first the imitation only makes you miss the real man more – but then some essence of Ernie takes over. Golding, in this energetic one-man show, peoples the stage with the characters that Eric and Ernie met over the 40 years and by the end of it you start to believe you have spent time with Eric Morecambe – you have experienced the knock backs and the triumphs, his joy when his children were born, seen the pain and terror of two of his three heart attacks and come to understand his simple delight in making other people happy. It was irresistible to him.

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Deserved winner of the 2010 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment, Golding’s performance is a masterpiece. The opening night audience at Cambridge Arts Theatre gave him standing ovation for giving them just one more glimpse of the man who brought us sunshine through the years.