Highly acclaimed for their uncanny portrayal of the legendary comedy duo, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens bring their show An Evening of Eric & Ern to the Ashcroft Playhouse at Croydon’s Fairfield Halls from Monday 9 – Saturday 14 December.
Morecambe & Wise are most famous for their television shows which spanned almost 30 years. But they cut their teeth in the variety theatres of Great Britain before that and continued with a live show which grew from 10 minutes, in the early days, to over an hour when they were at the height of their fame. Some of this made it to the TV shows in one guise or another, but much of it remained for the ‘live’ show.
In 1973 the boys’ agent, Billy Marsh suggested they filmed their live show at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon. This was, and remains, the only record of a live theatre show.
It was this live recording that was the inspiration for Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens to write their Olivier nominated play “Eric and Little Ern”. Now, five years later, Ian and Jonty perform their new show “An Evening of Eric & Ern “at the Fairfield Halls, following in the footsteps of the greatest British comedy duo of all time.
“To say we are excited is an understatement” says Ian who plays Ernie Wise in the show.
“Yes, it’s a real thrill and an honour to play these comedy icons, but to go back to Croydon where they recorded this show will be amazing!” added Jonty who plays Eric Morecambe.
“We must have watched the Fairfield Halls video hundreds of times, and we still watch it on a regular basis…” says Ian “And we still laugh – in the same places – every time!”
Jonty adds “It’s a real joy to perform this show and to recreate some of those wonderful routines and sketches. They really do take you back to a time of fun and laughter.”
“The audience reaction has been unbelievable” says Ian “We constantly get messages from people saying how they haven’t laughed like that for years. Tears streaming down their cheeks and that their jaws were literally aching from laughing so much.
“Especially when you got your wallet out” Says Jonty
“Please. So, come along folks and share the sunshine!” says Ian
“I was going to say that” said Jonty!
As seen on BBC One’s The One Show and ITV1’s The Alan Titchmarsh Show, the performances contain some of the first new writing in the style of Morecambe & Wise material in over 30 years.
Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens have been performing and writing as Eric and Ern for almost five years. The research into their subjects is there for all to see in their staggeringly accurate portrayal of the most successful and much-loved British comedy duo of all time. The performers themselves have a wonderful relationship with the families and estates of Morecambe & Wise – with all scripts vetted and authorised before being performed.
“I have been fascinated with Eric Morecambe for as long as I can remember,” says Jonty. “I took on his persona at school and it never really left me. He was the funniest and loveliest of men. We both feel it’s a privilege to play Eric and Ernie and some people have said it’s like we’re channelling them - some nights it does feel like that”.
Ian and Jonty met at drama school over thirty years ago and continued their friendship playing golf together at The Stage Golf Society in Richmond. When Jonty was asked to play Eric at a charity show he knew that with his diminutive stature, Ian would be the perfect Ernie Wise. Having brought the house down the two then wrote some ‘bespoke’ material for their friends at the golf club.
Ian explains: “It was these performances which laid the foundation for a very long and incredible journey that led to rave reviews at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.” This was followed by an acclaimed run at The Vaudeville Theatre in London’s West End, which was topped by an Olivier Award nomination for ‘the play wot we wrote’ - Eric and Little Ern.
“We do treasure the relationship we have with each other – as did Eric and Ernie and I think it’s obvious that we love performing the comedy of Morecambe and Wise,” Ian continues.
Jonty said: “More importantly, the audiences love watching it - which is always handy. But it’s more than just watching a comedy show - there’s a real emotional connection, because we all remember watching it together. The audience reaction has been amazing.”