arrived at the Oxford Playhouse on Thursday night a little dubious.
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?
to some extent, it was.
element of nostalgia certainly enhances a viewing of this play.
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.
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.
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.
their predecessors, this incorrigible pair come from lowly beginnings.
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.
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
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.
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.
unexpected arrival of an A-list celebrity in their mish-mash show
is in perfect keeping with the play's irreverent humour.
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."
Cooper finally appeared in classic, anti-climactic style at the
wrong side of the stage.
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.
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.
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.
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.