Actors are trained in playing another persona, but it is something altogether different to portray a real-life, national treasure on stage.
In 2010, Bob Golding first stepped into the shoes of the late, great Eric Morecambe and was justifiably rewarded with an Olivier award for his performance. This year he is reprising the role in a tour that opened, appropriately enough, in St Albans, close to Harpenden where Eric lived from the 1960s until his untimely death in 1984.
Comic timing, observational comedy, ad lib and an ability to read one another’s minds were what made Morecambe and Wise such a successful double act. Bob Golding sagely does not try to play both sides of the partnership. Instead, he takes on the altogether more monumental task of being the 55 different characters that were the supporting cast to Eric’s life - everyone from his mother Sadie to Bruce Forsyth. Ernie, hilariously, is a ventriloquist’s dummy, evoking those early days of vaudeville that first brought the two young comics together as a duo.
Gary Morecambe, Eric’s son, was in the audience and both he and sister Gail have given their seal of approval to this heartfelt tribute to one of the UK’s finest comic talents.
It isn’t just that Bob resembles Eric, though this is more in mannerism than in stature, he nimbly captures Eric’s ability to bond with and win over an audience. He also brings that effusive dynamism to life, the boundless energy and breakneck drive that sadly, ultimately, curtailed Eric’s life so cruelly.
The show is moving, but never sentimental - Eric no doubt would have hated any fuss and the gags come too thick and fast for any maudlin reflection.
Morecambe is a celebration and it is in the fine detail that it excels. The paired back set that gradually gets more lavish as the twosome reach the height of their fame, the voices of the oddball folk that steer their course to stardom - impressarios and stage managers, the BBC staff and fellow celebrities.
I was too busy crying with laughter to write down the punchlines that peppered the evening. There was one about Eric’s wife Joan being Miss Margate and giving Margate a miss – it’s just one example of the slick wordplay involved. Bob summed it up when receiving a well-earned standing ovation. Eric was simply unforgettable and it was a pleasure to remember him so fondly in the place he came to call home.
by Melanie Dakin
See our interview with Bob Golding here