Theatre Review: Ian Ashpitel & Jonty Stephens as Eric and Ern at Christmas – The Lowry, Salford

Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel successfully capture the fizzy, frothing, joyous comedy of Morecambe and Wise, bringing laughs, joy and sunshine with their magical Christmas show

5 out of 5 stars

Let me take you on a journey through space and time. We start our journey in 2021 but the destination is any living room in Britain in the 1970s on Christmas Day. Queen’s Speech, Christmas dinner and then the joy that was the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show. Pulling viewing figures in the double figure millions that today’s TV can only dream of it was the one programme guaranteed to get everyone laughing, talking about for days and above all it WAS Christmas.

In this staged homage, Eric & Ern, you see that recaptured essence, the fizzy frothing joyous comedy that fell out of the TV screen from possibly the greatest comedy partnership this country has ever seen.

Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel as Eric and Ern respectively are more than carbon copies. Every nuance is here, every silence for effect, every look. Their comic timing is absolute perfection, the pause before the line, the knowing look to the audience. They simply just become Morecambe and Wise before your eyes and the audience are with them from their very first step on stage through every set piece, all the well-known jokes and through every song.

The intake of breath that accompanies one of the more well-known jokes as every audience member anticipates the delicious punchline is a wonderful thing to be a part of. It is far too hard to pick out one routine as being better than another as it is nonstop one liners, throw aways, firecracker jokes and when the full sketch is impossible to recreate then little snapshots appear which the knowing audience lap up.

Of course the humour from the pen of Eric and Ernie’s writer Eddie Braben is steeped in 1970s references. Des O’Connor comes in again for his usual gentle ribbing with references to other headlines of the day but even if you don’t understand those references it spoils nothing of the enjoyment; I saw many people who cannot possibly have seen them in the 1970s roaring with laughter.

Above all the warmth and love shown by the audience is the beauty of this show. You could call it a “greatest hits” album or a tribute act, but it is so much more than that, as the standing ovation at the end of the show attests. The care and affection with which Stephens and Ashpitel skilfully recreate the duo is evident as is the fact that they are clearly very much at ease with each other and enjoy the same close rapport as the heroes of comedy they emulate.

There is also a third person present, the excellent singer Sinéad Wall who follows in the footsteps of Dame Shirley Bassey and sings a song straight only for our buffoning two-some to perform slapstick behind her. She is to be commended for her ability to remain serious as the audience certainly could not.

During one sketch Eric says “I used to enjoy Christmas as a kid”. Didn’t we all but if you want to time travel or be a child again for a few brief hours treat yourself to a ticket. It provides laughs, it provides pure joy and above all yes, it does bring you sunshine.

Ian Ashpitel & Jonty Stephens as Eric and Ern at Christmas runs until 12 December 2021.