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On second opinion, The Play What I Wrote finds the funnybone!



Second opinion: David Munro

I OPENED my original review of The Play What I Wrote last year as follows: -
"Any play which has been successful in the West End, and then goes on tour, carries with it a lot of baggage not the least of which is, if the original cast are not available, the question 'can it measure up to the original?'

"This is very pertinent to The Play What I Wrote, as it was written by two comedians for themselves, so that any other comedians taking over the roles have not only to obliterate the memories of their predecessors, but also adapt their styles to fit the tailored roles, and I am afraid, the answer is in the negative."

I have to revise that view, radically, having seen the production again, after it has been touring for several weeks.

Joseph Alessi and Ben Keaton are very funny, and they have now welded their styles into a homogeneous whole, which, without denigrating from their personal and peculiar talents, suit the characters they are called upon to play; two comedians who try to revive Morecambe and Wise routines in order to save their failing double act.

Morecambe and Wise were very interdependent comedians. Each relied on the other for the creation of his particular comic persona, with the result that after Morecambe's death, Ernie Wise was unable to carve out an independent career for himself as the ill-fated Mystery of Edwin Drood proved.

Messrs Alessi and Keaton have now achieved a semblance of this interdependence, and they capture the style and essence of a Morecambe and Wise act without attempting a direct impersonation.

The premise of the play is that Alessi and Keaton are out of work, as Keaton wants to write plays, one of which he is determined will be performed with a guest star.

Alessi wants to get work for the act and tries to con Keaton into appearing in an evening devoted to Morecambe and Wise, by pretending that an impresario is putting on his play.

This enables them to recreate a number of Morecambe and Wise-type routines, while shelving until the last act the actual performance of the play.

These are very funny and well worked out within the Alessi and Keen impersonate Morecambe and Wise framework.

In all this, they have the support of Tony Sedgwick, the third member of the cast, as Arthur, the put-upon electrician, who has been dragooned by Alessi to help him convince Keaton to give up his aspirations as a playwright and return to the fold.

Arthur is called upon to impersonate the producer of the play, Darryl Hannah, the actual guest, Richard Wilson, and the French revolutionary mob, among other parts.

In each of these impersonations, he is, at the same time, grotesque and pathetic -a combination that is irresistibly funny.

His French Revolutionary mob, for which he dons several supernumerary heads, each of which takes on a life of its own, is a piece of comic acting in the best tradition of the Marcel Marceau and the other great mimes.

The role of guest artist in a Morecambe and Wise programme was always thankless and similarly in this play.

It is a butt for the comedian's humour and the guest is usually required to send him, or herself, up in some role based on one for which he or she is well known.

Last night, this thankless task fell to Richard Wilson, who coped magnificently as one would expect.

His curtain speech, in the style of an old actor manager (I almost wrote Donald Wolfit), was a joy and fitted perfectly into the comic framework of the evening.

To sum up, then; the reservations I had before have been dispelled, and my observation that this was a jeu d'esprit, which worked in the West End, but became a laboured joke in its translation to another cast on tour, no longer applies.

I am delighted I can now welcome this production wholeheartedly and confirm that the cast, taken individually and as a whole, are very amusing and well worth watching, and that The Play What I Wrote is now worthy of a better review than the review what I wrote last year.

The Play What I Wrote, by Hamish McColl, Sean Foley and Eddie Braben. Original songs by Gary Yershon.
Director, Michael Gyngell; Designer, Alice Power; Costume Supervisor, Sallyann Dicksee; Choreographer, Irving Davies & Michael King; Lighting, Tim Mitchell; Musical Arrangements, Steve Parry.
WITH: Joseph Alessi; Ben Keaton; Toby Sedgwick, and Richard Wilson.
Producer: David Pugh Ltd
New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19 1QG.
Evenings Mon, Feb 16 - Sat, Feb 21, 2004, at 7.30pm
Matinees Thurs.& Sat 2.30pm.
Box Office 0870 060 1827.

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