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September, 2003
Review: The Play What I wrote
The Play What I Wrote
The Play What I Wrote at The Oxford Playhouse.
With trepidation, Emily Whitchurch reviewed The Play What I Wrote at The Oxford Playhouse and was pleasantly surprised...


Review of Too Hot to Handel

Review of Carry on Gilbert & Sullivan


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I arrived at the Oxford Playhouse on Thursday night a little dubious.

Being a child of the '80s, would the humour of a play that paid tribute to two of the country's greatest comedians of the '60s and '70s be completely wasted on me?

And to some extent, it was.

An element of nostalgia certainly enhances a viewing of this play.

The leads, Joe Alessi and Ben Keaton, otherwise known as "The Right Size", perform several sequences that recollect Carry On scenes and classic jokes from Morecambe and Wise's most memorable routines, which used to attract audiences of 25 million in their BBC heyday.

Yet as the Morecombe-esque character, Joe Alessi repeats throughout the first half, "this is not a play about Morecombe and Wise!" Of course, in traditional slapstick-style, it was always going to be a play about them.

So, to my relief, I found that this was a play was also about the resonance of this famous duo upon a modern-day double act: Alessi and Keaton.

Like their predecessors, this incorrigible pair come from lowly beginnings.

Much of the first half of the production is spent in Withnail and I-style self-questioning, under a backdrop of flashbacks to their lives as poverty-stricken hopefuls, all to hilarious effect.

Their long-awaited entrance to the glittering West End is itself a farce, based as it is upon Keaton's misunderstanding that they are there to perform his self-penned "masterpiece", A Tight Squeeze for the Scarlet Pimple.

In truth, Alessi and his friend Arthur -played by Toby Sedgwick- have concocted a master-gag: they will play the leading roles in a play that imitates the biggest stars of them all: Morecombe and Wise.

Throughout the first half we wait in anticipation for the "mystery celebrity guest", a role which has attracted such names as Roger Moore, Ewan McGregor and Jerry Hall in previous performances.

The unexpected arrival of an A-list celebrity in their mish-mash show is in perfect keeping with the play's irreverent humour.

As Toby Jones, the U.S. "Arthur" explains: "When they come on, they have that wonderful quality of dignity--the audience really sympathises with them because they've seen what klutzes we are."

Adam Cooper finally appeared in classic, anti-climactic style at the wrong side of the stage.

Cooper was triumphant in an oversized hoop skirt, variously hamming it up like a proper theatre darling, then switching into everyday banter with Wise-like Keaton.

The play is a celebration of the ridiculous and the camp, a type of humour that might seem a little kitsch to the younger viewer, but will have you laughing nonetheless.

There are plenty of cheap gags and puns, as well as the usual slapstick routines involving custard pies in unsteady hands, and sexual confusion over likely looking cross-dressers.

This is a celebration of the classic double act: how the comic duo create humour through their seeming contradiction and hampering of each other's ambitions, which turns out to be both the limitation and the final punch line of this play.

By Emily Whitchurch

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