BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
The Play What I Wrote
|The Play What I Laughed and Laughed At. . .
Is The Play What I Wrote about Foley and McColl, or Morecambe and Wise? It is about both, and neither of them. In the end, it celebrates somethng more universal--that wonderful comic machine--the double act
--- Hamish McColl and Sean Foley, summing up The Inspiration What We Had.
As with our recent posting on Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out, the yellow background indicates that this is a third look by CurtainUp at The Play What I Wrote -- in this case, the first on this side of the ocean.
Sean Foley and Hamish McColl
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
So how does this homage to a fabled British vaudeville team channeled through two current practitioners of the comic double act play on Broadway where neither Morcambe and Wise or Foley and McColl, are known to most theater goers? The answer is a resounding Super!
Even if you're not smitten with sillier than silly British humor, Foley and McColl will endear themselves to you and all but the most curmudgeonly members of the audience. While I tend to chuckle rather than to laugh out loud, especially when it comes to slapstick humor with lots of ridiculous pratfalls, The Play What I Wrote nudged my chuckles into full blown laughter. The same was true for most of the people seated near me.
Scratch any concerns about not "getting" all the allusion or that this is just too British to make it worth the price of a Broadway show ticket. Foley and McColl, and their hilarious multi-role playing sidekick Toby Jones, transform all who come to the Lyceum into Brits -- at least for an hour and forty-five minutes. They've also Americanized some of the allusions. And make no mistake about it, this may be slapstick humor at its silliest, but these performers are brilliant comedians. Director Kenneth Branagh has seen to it that this is not only a well-oiled comic romp but that the staging is not at all hokey but full of wit and Broadway-worthy bells and whistles. Alice Power, who also designed Foley and McColl's last and less high profile outing to these shores, Do You Come Here Often? (See link below) has created costumes and sets which reminded me of the terrific revival of Charles Ludlum's The Mystery of Irma Vep (see link below).
Lizzie Loveridge's review which follows these comments details some of what you can expect, just a few more words about the transfer. Broadway's Lyceum Theater is just the right size for the comics also known as The Right Size. As in London, the show is enhanced with the piquant gimmick of various surprise mystery guests arriving during the last half hour to take the place of no-show Sir Ian McKellen in the wannabe playwright Foley's awful The Scarlet Pimple. At the performance I attended Roger Moore was the good-natured foil for Foley and McColl's shenanigans (a deserved "comeback" after an earlier preview appearance). Kevin Kline, Liam Neeson and Nathan Lane have already done guest stints. And don't be surprised if a woman shows up. The producers might consider an additional gimmick of selling discounted standing-room tickets for the second and shorter mystery guest act.
As Lizzie suggested, by all means bring the eleven and up kids. They may miss some of the allusions like the obvious tie of "Mr. Tickles " to Mike Nichols, the top name on the list of producers who's himself something of a legend as half of a double comedy act with Elaine May -- but no matter, this is exactly the forget the war and the economy night out you've been looking for.
Do You Come Here Often?
The Mystery of Irma Vep
BROADWAY PRODUCTION NOTES
THE PLAY WHAT I WROTE
By Hamish McColl, Sean Foley and Eddie Braben
With: Sean Foley (Sean), Hamish McColl (Hamish), Toby Jones (Arthur) and a Mystery Guest
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Choreography: Irving Davies and Heather Cornell
Sets and costumes: Alice Power
Original songs: Gary Yershon
Musical arrangements: Steve Parry
Lighting: Tim Mitchell
Sound Design: Simon Baker for Autograph
Lyceum Theater, 149 West 45th St (6th/7th Aves)212/ 239 6200
From 3/07/03; opening 3/30/03.
Tue.-Sat.@8, Wed. & Sat.@ 2, Sun.@3.
$46.25 - $81.25 $10 Student tickets(plus facilities fee and subject to availability) at the box office beginning at 10 AM every performance day, except for Sunday when the box office opens at Noon. There is a limit of 4 tickets per student and a valid I.D. is required.
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, includes one 15-minute intermission
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on April 2nd performance with Roger Moore as the mystery guest
The play which has ousted the long running Art from the Wyndham's Theatre needs to be a sure thing* and judging from the initial reaction, it appears that the producers have found just that in The Play What I Wrote performed by comedy acting duo, Sean Foley and Hamish McColl, known as The Right Size. Add the inspiration, the career over three decades of much loved comedians Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise and the directing talents of one of Britain's best known thespians, Kenneth Branagh. Throw in the talents of Toby Jones and surprise the audience with a unannounced celebrity guest and despite the current doldrums of the West End, The Play What I Wrote is bringing a welcome bout of winter sunshine to the Charing Cross Road.
George Bernard Priestley.
--- Foley and McColl routine in the style of Morecambe and Wise
The audience for The Play What I Wrote is partly those who remember the great duo, Morecambe and Wise and partly a younger element who may have a hazy idea of who they were from BBC television repeats but who are familiar with Foley and McColl or The Right Size. By way of history, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise developed their own idiosyncratic comic routines. Morecambe was tall, "the funny one", " the one with the glasses" whereas Ernie was "Little Ern" his straight man whom Eric hopelessly sent up. Ernie Wise was all pretension, wounded pride and playwright manqué. A regular feature of their show was both Eric clowning and lampooning while Ernie made efforts at seriously bad playwriting and the introduction of a well known television personality to act in Ernie's appallingly hammy plays. Morecambe's comedy was quite physical, much of it distracting and scene stealing mime in the background.
The Play What I Wrote is not merely a tribute show to the double act, two people just recreating Morecambe and Wise's routines but develops with Sean Foley and Hamish McColl playing themselves and by the second act slowly metamorphosing into Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise for an hour long recreation of "The Morecambe and Wise Show". They of course both want to play Morecambe so another layer is McColl's reluctance to be the straight man which nicely merges into Ernie's bruised ego, his frustration at being continually upstaged or "having his plays ruined" by Morecambe. As Foley puts it, Mcoll is "Pompously affected, slightly effeminate - all the qualities of a straight man!"
A third member of the cast, Toby Jones, makes his entrance in a delightful cameo alluding to Bertolt Brecht's reminders of reality, when seemingly as Arthur, an electrician and member of the audience he interrupts the show to voice his disappointment at not seeing The Morecambe and Wise Show, but Foley and McColl. (Foley and MColl previously played in Brecht's Mr Puntila and His Man Mutti at the Almeida and in the West End). Jones who is wide of forehead, short of stature and bizarre looking is called upon to play Darryl Hannah and Carmen Miranda in an assortment of funny wigs and very silly platform shoes. Mayhem breaks out as both men serenade Darryl Hannah sitting on a wall, alternately tipping each other off in order to grab the limelight and the rather strange looking Jones in a frock.
In the first act we are teased with a list of celebrities, mention of Sir Ian McEwan, Julia Roberts, Sue Johnston and Barbara Windsor. The second act opens with Eric and Ernie in top hat and tails with canes doing their camped up Fred Astaire routine on the stairs to their theme song, "Bring Me Sunshine". We were thrilled to see well known British actor Sue Johnston appear to play the Countess of Toblerlone in Wise's take on Sir Percy, the Scarlet Pimple and saviour of France's aristocracy . . . . "I must warn you Madam I am a black belt in Nintendo" Earlier in the week, Ralph Fiennes, and Richard Wilson who is better known according to Eric as "Victor Mildew", were the guest. I liked, under a small but bright spotlight, Arthur the electrician's spooky Gothic monologues, the flashbacks to his mother's bedroom, very zany and very funny.
I suspect that the rotation of guest appearances and the changing individual routines will keep the show fresh and even allow for some unscripted spontaneity. The sets give us Eric and Ernie's famous bedroom, their shared double bed with no hint of impropriety and a camply sinister dungeon with skeletons for aristocrats who did not survive the torture of Ernie's terrible play. I think Kenneth Branagh must have had immense fun directing this and certainly the audience were exhilarated. This is a perfect show for all ages from maybe 11 years upwards and as long as you can find corny jokes like "Are you too of noble stock? No, my father was a greengrocer. I am of vegetable stock" funny, you'll love The Play What I Wrote.
--Reviewed 7th November 2001 at the Wyndham.
The Play What I Wrote returns -- and Brian Clover Takes a Second Look
Would you like to see my big opening?
-- Eric Morecambe
This tribute to Morecambe and Wise storms back into London's glittering West End , as the jolly pair's Fringe-jumping avatars, Sean Foley and Hamish McColl, gleefully capitalise the capital.
Under director Kenneth Branagh's firm grip - Ooh-er, Missus! - the show leaps from peak to peak like an over-stimulated mountain goat. Which is not to say that there are no troughs in this show. There are passages of quite unnecessary exposition, which seem to have survived from an earlier version of the play. These don't always work, particularly for those with little or no knowledge of the original comics.
But is there anyone here who's not a fan of Morecambe and Wise? Probably not, which is a shame because even if you've never heard of the comic duo it is still a delight to see three performers working so hard and so well together. Yes, three, because Toby Jones, who plays Darryl Hannah, Charles Dance and a Slimy Producer, among others, nearly outshines his colleagues. Some Slimy Producer should give him his own show. Um, actually four performers since Charles Dance himself gamely turns up as guest celebrity and, like the trouper he is, lets the others cut his head off.
Without game guests like Dance The Play What I Wrote would seem a little thin over the full evening. Innuendoes become diminuendoes after a while and you begin to miss a solid base beneath all the fun. There are hints of something a bit nastier lurking behind the puns and pratfalls - the anxieties, suspicions and vanities of the successful double act - and I'd like to have seen that theme developed. But this will do for the near-perfect feel good night out.
NEW PRODUCTION NOTES
The Play What I Wrote
Written by Hamish McColl and Sean Foley
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Design by Alice Power
Choreographed by Irving Davies
Lighting Design: Jon Linstrum
Original Songs: Gary Yershon
Music by Paddy Cuneen
Musical Arrangements: Steve Parry
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes with 20 minute interval
Reviewed by Brian Clover based on 6th November 2002 performance at the Wydhams Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London SW1 (Tube Station: Leicester Square)
Box Office: 020 7369 1736
Booking to 4th January 2003
Final Performance: 6/15/03