Big Willy gets a little wiser

Billed as a “celebration of Britain’s greatest comedy double act, Morecambe and Wise”, The Play What I Wrote follows the mishaps of Clive Hayward and Kim Wall (played by actors of the same names) as they attempt to provide an evening of quality theatre to an expectant crowd. Fully aware that it had played in London’s West End to rave reviews, packed theatres, and unrivalled success, it was with excited anticipation that I took my seat at York’s Grand Opera House, ready to be entertained.

Admittedly, the fact that my previous experience of Morecambe and Wise had amounted to, as a grand total, a ten-minute excerpt watched in a seminar, was a minor concern niggling at the back of my mind. As the play began, my minor concern became a major one; I watched on in befuddled amazement as two odd men sang, danced, slapped each other about some, and told absurdly cheesy jokes. However, once the initial shock had worn off, I realised that it really didn’t matter if I wasn’t aware of the conventions or didn’t recognise the jokes; these men were funny, and they were determined to make me laugh whether I wanted to or not.

Kim Wall is tired of playing the ‘straight man’ in his double act with Clive; the only laughs he ever gets are the inaudible ones. No matter that he has all the qualities a ’straight man’ needs (takes himself too seriously, is pompous and slightly effeminate); he is determined to produce a play of his own and to be recognised as an artist in his own right Unfortunately, all of Kim’s seventy- two plays are terrible, and nobody will produce them. Nobody, that is, until David Pugh, top empresario of London’s glittering West End, played by Andy Williams, comes along and offers £5000 for Kim’s latest masterpiece: A Tight Squeeze for the Scarlet Pimple. Unbeknownst to Kim, Pugh’s visit was masterminded by Clive, and is all part of a plan for the duo to perform a Morecambe and Wise tribute show.

The big night arrives and Kim cannot understand why the audience is clamouring for Morecambe and Wise. The truth eventually gets out, and when Kim threatens to leave for good, Clive is forced to agree to put on his play.

The play cannot go ahead without a special guest however; cue celebrity guest star, Corrielegend Sir William Roache. We’re told that he’s “been on the Street for years but he’s finally found his house keys”. Big Willy brings his charm and a certain gravitas to the stage, but his presence is short-lived as he meets a gruesome end at the blade of the guillotine.

Roache’s entrance creates extra momentum at just the right time, and the play speeds on to its happy conclusion, in which Kim and Clive finally admit to needing each other. It is an appropriately serious moment, allowing for a respite from the continuous gags, and highlighting the humanity behind the slapstick. The feel-good factor continues with a final rendition of ‘Bring Me Sunshine’.

Even to an ignorant viewer like myself, it was clear that The Play What I Wrote is a highly original and extremely well-crafted homage to two of Britain’s most famous comedians. Half of the jokes may well have gone straight over my head, but fortunately the same cannot be said for the rest of the (mostly over-40) audience, who clearly demonstrated their approval, and could occasionally be heard offering up the punch lines before the actors themselves. The first act faltered somewhat in comparison to the second, which truly displayed the best of this very classic, very funny and very British comedy.

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