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28, 2001, Sunday


HEADLINE: Stars seek part in West End Eric and Ernie play


KYLIE MINOGUE, Victoria Beckham and the actor Richard E Grant will appear as guest stars in a new play about the comedians Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise.

Kenneth Branagh, the director of The Play What I Wrote which opens in London a week tomorrow, has enticed some of the most famous names in showbusiness to be the butt of jokes and slapstick in the show. It was a trademark of the Morecambe and Wise show to ridicule a hapless guest star each week. "People are queuing up to be in it," said David Pugh, whose company is producing the play at the Wyndham's Theatre in the West End. "We have 28 stars who will play at least eight performances although one or two will do single performances."

Some of the guests will, like Branagh, remember looking forward to the weekly Morecambe and Wise television shows. "As a boy, I would think how great it would be to be a guest on one of their shows," he said. "Sadly, it was never to be."

Some of the famous names joining the cast list are too young to have known the comedians. They are being given videos to acquaint themselves with the golden boys of television comedy.

Among those signed up or in talks about appearances are Keanu Reeves, Naomi Campbell, Jude Law, Sean Connery, Lady Victoria Hervey, Rufus Sewell, Richard Wilson, Nigel Havers, Frank Skinner, and Sue Johnstone from The Royle Family.

Personalities who appeared in the original Morecambe and Wise television shows, such as Glenda Jackson and Angela Rippon, have, been excluded because the producers wanted to make it feel more contemporary.

"We don't want comparisons drawn with the original show - we're not including anybody who appeared with Morecambe and Wise," said Mr Pugh.

The Play What I Wrote features the comedians Hamish McColl and Sean Foley. Although it starts with them playing themselves, they gradually turn into Morecambe and Wise, one tall and apparently dim, the other short and pleased with himself. The action focuses around a play, supposedly written by Wise, about the Scarlet Pimpernel, called The Scarlet Pimple. Both Morecambe and Wise play the part of the aristocrat, leaving the star guests to be beheaded.

The script has been written with the help of Eddie Braben, 80, who assisted Morecambe and Wise with their shows, which were watched by up to 30 million viewers.

"The funny thing is, that by the end of the play you forget that it's not Eric and Ernie on stage," said Gary Morecambe, the comedian's son. "They put gags in and make digs about the celebrities just as those two did. It's very bizarre." Mr Morecambe said he got a lump in his throat watching the two actors re-enact Bring Me Sunshine - the song and dance routine that rounded off each episode of the original television series.

"The appeal of Morecambe and Wise is that they are timeless, because barbed conversation never really ages," said Mr Morecambe. Miss Jackson was the most frequent guest on the original shows. She once appeared as Queen Victoria with Morecambe and Wise as Prince Albert and Benjamin Disraeli. In another episode she played Cleopatra against Wise's Mark Antony.

"The first time I saw that script I laughed until I ached," she said. However, Miss Jackson said she would be too busy to attend the new show and added: "They are impossible to imitate."

Wise died in 1999, aged 73. Morecambe died in 1984, aged 58. Their partnership began in 1941 when they were both 16.

thanks, Rai!


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