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November 2003
The Play What I Wrote
Reviewed by Theatre Correspondent Andy Knowles
The Play What I Wrote
Have fun on stage
"The Play What I Wrote" is far more than just a tribute show to Britain's finest-ever comedy double act; it is, quite simply, marvellously funny, entertaining, and what's more fast-paced.
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Birmingham Hippodrome
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The Play What I Wrote is showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome from 17th-22nd November 2003.

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When it comes to comic genius I consider myself fortunate to have seen the late, great Tommy Cooper live on stage. If I have any regrets it is that I never had the chance to see those two Kings of comedy, Morecombe and Wise, from such close quarters. But for two laughter-laden hours at the Hippodrome I could have been in their presence.

For even in my exhausted, rib-aching after-show state, I was still able to appreciate - and comprehend - the wonderful comic timing and sheer idiotic humour that was Eric and Ern's trademark throughout their career together on stage and TV.

More than just a tribute

But "The Play What I Wrote" is far more than just a tribute show to Britain's finest-ever comedy double act; it is, quite simply, marvellously funny, entertaining, and what's more fast-paced.

The Play What I Wrote
The Play What I Wrote

It's all brilliantly carried off by the hard-working Joseph Alessi and Ben Keaton (as the famous duo) and Toby Sedgwick, as the man of many guises, among them that of Eric and Ern's famous wanna-be harmonica player, Arthur Tolcher.

The three of them combine to recreate a golden era of Television Light Entertainment - and how the audience loved it!

But then audiences on both sides of the Atlantic have been doing just that for some years now ever since this inspired show took to the West End and Broadway stages.

It's had two sell-out runs in London where it received two prestigious Olivier Awards - including Best New Comedy - and a Tony nomination in New York. It's not hard to see why. It's now 10 weeks into it's second 13-week UK tour, and still as fresh as a daisy.

Ostensibly it's the story of a dissolving double act booked to do a West End show. The only problem is that while Keaton assumes they're going to perform one of his 72 unproduced plays, Alessi knows the idea really is to stage a Morecombe and Wise tribute.

Mystery celebrity guests

What follows is comic deception involving Sedgwick in various comic roles, including that of Darryl Hannah - introduced as "half woman, half kipper!"

The Play What I Wrote
Dawn French - The Play What I Wrote

The fun intensifies in the second act with the much anticipated arrival of the "mystery celebrity guest" ready for a starring role in Keaton's "brilliant new play"

A Tight Squeeze for the Scarlet Pimple - need I say more? (What do you think of it so far - rubbish! You see, it's contagious!)

Ralph Fiennes, Sir Ian McKellan, Ewan McGregor, Dawn French, and Roger Moore are among the luminaries to have "guested" in recent times; our mystery guest wasn't a disappointment either - Nigel Havers, taking time off from his current West End play, to share in the shenanigans.

Indeed his entrance almost brought the show to a stop. He was certainly a popular choice for opening night in Birmingham. Four other mystery guests are booked in for it's Hippodrome run - more than any other venue on this tour.

The real stars

The real stars, though, are the irrepressible trio of Keaton, Alessi and Sedgwick. It's not surprising to read in the programme notes that they all appeared together as the Marx brothers in Animal Crackers in the West End. Crackers is certainly a great way of describing their performances!

They've all got the boundless energy and brilliant comic timing necessary for such demanding roles. The audience loved it - and, so it seemed, so did they.

It's an exhausting evening of nostalgia, and humour and, what's more it certainly brought me "a little sunshine…"

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