Olivier Award - Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Toby Jones
Olivier Award - Best New Comedy: The Play What I Wrote
The Play What I Wrote - by The Right Size, directed by Kenneth Branagh

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The Right Way to Get It Wrong: What's the Secret of Doing Something Badly?
The Trick, Say Comedy Duo The Right Size, Is to Get Good at It First
Some New Jokes What I Wrote... Eddie Braben Was Morecambe and Wise's Scriptwriter During their Golden Years at the BBC
A One-Two Punch Line, Los Angeles Times, 27 January 2002 Comedy, Tragedy, Tribute, International Herald Tribune, 28 November 2001 The Weekend Starts Here: Gallows Humour, The Express, 9 November 2001
Wot an Entrance for Ralph, IT News, 7 November 2001 Nostalgic Innuendo from the Right Size , Guardian, 7 November 2001 The Best Comedy What I've Watched This Year, Guardian, 6 November 2001
A Nice Little Ernie, Times, 7 November 2001 Comic Duo Brought to Life in London Comedy Hit, Daily Mail, 6 November 2001 Branagh's West End Triumph, BBC, 6 November 2001
More Than Homage to Comic History, Financial Times, 7 November 2001 Morecambe and Wise Tribute Brings Sunshine and Star Quality to Stage, Independent, 5 November 2001 A New Show by the Duo The Right Size Is Breathing Life Back into the Comedy Legends Morecambe and Wise, Times, 4 November 2001
Stars Flock to Appear in Morecambe and Wise Play, Ananova, 28 October 2001 Review - Liverpool Playhouse: The Play What I Wrote, icLiverpool, 3 October 2001 Why Ken Loves Eric and Ernie, Liverpool Echo, September 2001
Branagh Tribute to Eric and Ern, Daily Express, 29 September 2001 Theatre: Curtain Calls, Independent, 22 September 2001 Eric and Ernie - The Play What They Didn't Write, Daily Post, 21 September 2001
Kenneth Branagh Directs Tribute to Morecambe and Wise, Broadway Online, 26 August 2001 Watch Out For, Daily Mail, 17 August 2001 Branagh to Direct Comedy Tribute, BBC News, 16 August 2001

Morecambe and Wise Web Sites

"The Morecambe & Wise Home Page"

"The Morecambe And Wise Experience"

Daily Mail, 17 August 2001
by Baz Bamigboye

Watch Out For:

Kenneth Branagh, who will direct a new show called "The Play Wot I Wrote", by the award-winning comedy duo The Right Size (aka Sean Foley and Hamish McColl). Branagh was chosen by producer David Pugh, the man behind the hit "Art", to stage the play. It's about two comedians who are asked to do a tribute show on Morecambe and Wise.

Fans of Eric and Ernie will know that "The Play Wot I Wrote" was one of their little catchphrases. The last 20 minutes of the play will feature the classic skit, and each evening there will be a surprise A-list celebrity guest.

So far, 28 guest stars have agreed to participate, each rotating performances over a set period. "Morecambe and Wise are icons, so that's why it's not a lookalike show," an executive stressed.

The production opens at the Liverpool Playhouse on September 27 and is expected to move into a West End theatre in October.
(Thanks, Catherine)

The Right Size
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BBC News
16 August 2001

Branagh to Direct Comedy Tribute

Morecambe and Wise were comedy legends Director Kenneth Branagh is to direct a new play which pays homage to Morecambe and Wise. Called, The Play What I Wrote, it will feature original scripts from the two giants of comedy.

Branagh is said to have leapt at the chance to work with the play's creators - Sean Foley and Hamish McColl, who will also perform as the legendary comics.

It will première at Liverpool's Everyman Playhouse theatre on 27 September for a two-week run before transferring to the West End.

'Big success'
A Playhouse spokesman said: "This is a very exciting project. The Right Size have already got a great track record for producing comedy and people are queuing up to work with them. "Having someone like Kenneth Branagh on board makes it all the more likely to be a big success."

Morecambe and Wise were two of Britain's best-loved comics and their show on BBC remains a strong draw for audiences. Ernie Wise died in 1999, 15 years after his comedy partner Eric Morecambe died. They were best known for their inventive comedy sketches, song and dance routines, and appearances from stars such as Shirley Bassey.

Louise Merrin, campaign manager of the Liverpool Playhouse, said the show would re-create the appearance of a guest celebrity. "There will be a special guest star, I am not at liberty to say who that is. They will just turn up. They will be recognisable to the Merseyside audience."

'Coming together'
She added: "It is an interactive play, with plenty going on." "Hamish and Sean will be taking part themselves, doing Morecambe and Wise. "Anyone can enjoy it, it is a coming together of two eras of comedy, Morecambe and Wise in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and Right Size, a very funny and innovative double-act."

Branagh is one of the most respected British actors and directors, who made his name first as a stage star before moving to Hollywood. His directed well-received films such as Henry V and Hamlet as well as appearing in movies such as Celebrity and Frankenstein.
(Thanks, Paula B.)

BroadwayOnline.com, 26 August 2001

Kenneth Branagh Directs Tribute to Morecambe and Wise Sept. 27
by Randy Gener

LONDON -- Kenneth Branagh is getting seriously stage-struck once again. Not that he hasn't been before -- it's just that it's been a long time since he's actually worked in the theatre.

Before he treads the boards in the title role of Shakespeare's Richard III in 2002, he is directing a new play that pays tribute to beloved British comics Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. Liverpool's Everyman Playhouse debuts The Play What I Wrote for two weeks starting Sept. 27. The show will then transfer to London's West End.

Branagh is internationally known for his work in bringing Shakespeare to the screen with such projects as Henry V (1989, playing the title role), Much Ado About Nothing (1993, playing Benedick), Othello (1995, as Iago), Hamlet (1996, in the title role) and Love’s Labour's Lost (2000, as Berowne) -- four of which he also directed. Now he'll return to the Shakespearean stage when he plays play the title role in Richard III, in a new production by director Michael Grandage at the Sheffield Crucible. It runs March 13 - April 6, 2002.

Branagh last appeared on stage in an RSC Hamlet in 1992. He began his career in the theatre with the original stage production of Another Country, re-creating his performance in the subsequent film of that story.

The creators of Branagh's latest project, The Play What I Wrote, are Sean Foley and Hamish McColl, who respectively play the comics Morecambe and Wise. McColl and Foley are the much-raved-about comedy duo also known as The Right Size. They made their American premiere at Off-Broadway's P.S. 122 in Do You Come Here Often?.

Morecambe, whose real name was John Eric Bartholomew, died in 1984, aged 57. His partner, Ernie Wise, passed away in May 1999, aged 73. They were considered the first truly great double act in Britain.

Theatre: Curtain calls
The Independent - United Kingdom; Sep 22, 2001
by David Benedict

"I want to thank you for coming to my little show tonight, and if you've enjoyed it then it's all been worthwhile. So, until we meet again, goodnight... and I LOVE YOU ALL!" Thus spake Janet Webb, the adorably gushy character who swooped in at the end of The Morecambe and Wise Show.

The beaming, beguiling and frankly barmy Hamish McColl and Sean Foley - aka The Right Size - sent tidal`waves of happiness through theatres with Do You Come Here Often?, the world's greatest comedy about two men stuck in a bathroom. Audiences compared them with the late, great Eric and Ern (above).

So who better to perform this: a show-within-a-show about two comedians approached to do a tribute to the nation's favourite comics? And in the spirit of the originals, who persuaded the likes of Andrew Preview (aka Andre Previn), "Vanilla" (Vanessa) Redgrave, and Angela Rippon's ballroom-dancing legs to appear with them, McColl and Foley are promising nightly surprise guests. And with Kenneth Branagh directing, they have a dandy address book to plunder.

Eric and Ernie - The Play What They Didn't Write
Daily Post, 21 September 2001

Being asked to play the late Morecambe and Wise on stage must be the poisoned chalice of comedy. In spite of guaranteed publicity, impersonating Britain's most famous double act could easily be a recipe for disaster.

Sean Foley and Hamish McColl, of stand-up comedy duo The Right Stuff, were well aware of the pitfalls when they were approached by producer David Pugh who had rights to Morecambe and Wise's material.

Initially they rejected the offer, but now, two years later, they are set to premier The Play What I Wrote at Liverpool Playhouse, from Thursday, in a pre-London West End run.

The play is directed by Kenneth Branagh. Besides being one of Britain's premier actor/ director/ writers, he is also a keen fan of Morecambe and Wise. Not only that, but in another coup, former Eric and Ernie scriptwriter Eddie Braben (from Liverpool, now of Pwllheli) has contributed some new material to the play. Foley and McColl overcame their fears of performing what is still very familiar material by writing a script that avoided being a straight biographical play about the two comedians.

Instead, their play concerns a comedy duo who agree to star in just such a play in spite of not particularly liking Eric and Ernie's brand of humour. They would prefer to perform the play which they wrote. In true Morecambe and Wise style, each show will also feature a celebrity guest.

Foley and McColl refused to reveal if they share a double bed on stage, as Morecambe and Wise so famously did (in a strictly non-Biblical sense) in their 1970s television incarnation, but referring to the duo's other trademark physical comedy, there will be plenty of "slappage".

"Nobody could impersonate Morecambe and Wise, it's a terrifying responsibility. Besides, who wants to commit suicide on stage? But with a wriggle of logic we opened up the door," says Steve McColl, 39.

"I watched the Morecambe and Wise shows in the 1970s when they got these incredible viewing figures with 28m people - that's half the country --watching them. People decided if they'd had a good Christmas depending on whether they'd enjoyed the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show.

"I loved them because my dad used to laugh his head off. It was a shared family experience. They became more than comedians and instead like family members themselves, sort of funny uncles."

Steve says their comedy style came out of the music hall and variety, so it's very apposite to put them back in the theatre. In creating the show they cherrypicked the definitive and funniest moments of their material.

"Neither of us look like Eric and Ernie, but we're aiming to be closer in spirit to them with the show. At the play's heart is the dilemma of a tribute show, as in the show neither of us want to play Ernie, particularly as I consider myself an important playwright which naturally makes me closer to Ernie's persona.

"We're thrilled that Eddie Braben, who is a Liverpudlian, became involved and contributed some new material. This fits in beautifully, he took the script and just reworked parts of it. We're not having a flashing light saying, 'new quality Eddie Braben coming up'!"Sean Foley says there are some great new gags in the show. "While there is a fair degree of adlibbing, it's got to be kept really tight. It's the swimming duck syndrome; you look serene above the water while frantically paddling away underneath."

As they sifted the raw material, it was agreed with David Pugh that the show needed a strong director to shape it as a drama. From a " shopping list" of directors, they chose Kenneth Branagh, who was very enthusiastic to be involved.

Sean says: "Kenneth Branagh's contribution is a healthy collision. We are a couple of professional idiots, who can improvise until the building falls down, but Ken imposes a sharpness on the overall performance.

"When you try doing Eric and Ernie's material, you realise how supremely professional they were and how closely they co-operated in making the comedy work. Ernie said their success was down to lots and lots of rehearsal and a bit of luck.

"It's also interesting how their stage personas changed. Initially Eric's persona was totally daft, then they refined and normalised him. Although we're avoiding impersonating them, it's difficult to say lines like, 'You want to get that seen to!' in anything but an Eric Morecambe voice."

Foley and McColl failed to find a dark side to the duo, in spite of reading many biographies. Hamish McColl adds: "They had the usual ups and downs of any long-term partnership.

"Just as Morecambe and Wise was family entertainment, so this is a great family show. There's not a swear word in it. We're deeply proud of the play. Hopefully, people will come out of the show having had a great laugh and been emotionally moved."

The Play What I Wrote, Liverpool Playhouse, Williamson Square, Liverpool, at 7.30pm; tel: 0151-709 4776. Sep 27 - Oct 13.
(Thanks, Gillian)

Daily Express, 29 September 2001

Branagh Tribute to Eric and Ern

Actor Kenneth Branagh has revealed that his early inspiration came not from fellow Shakespearean stars like Olivier, Richardson and Gielgud - but from Morecambe and Wise.

Now Branagh is paying tribute to his childhood heroes by directing a new comedy called "The Play What I Wrote" - a title that echoes Ernie Wise's most famous catchphrase.

Written by and starring comic actors Sean Foley and Hamish McColl, it revists the golden age of TV comedy.

"As a boy I would watch Eric and Ernie and think how great it would be to be a guest on one of their shows," said Branagh after this week's opening night. "Sadly it was never to be."

Branagh was such a fan that he even obtained an autographed photo of the pair. He watched as the likes of Andre Previn and Glenda Jackson allowed themselves to be sent up on the Morecambe and Wise TV shows. He admits that if he had been born 20 years earlier, he would have been a prime candidate for an Eric and Ern demolition job.

The new play, which has Morecambe's son Gary as a consultant, is on at the Playhouse Theatre in Liverpool until October 13th and may then transfer to the West End.

The Liverpool run coincides with the 60th anniversary of Morecambe and Wise's stage debut in the city.
(Thanks, Catherine)

icLiverpool.com, 3 October 2001

Liverpool Playhouse: The Play What I Wrote

by Peter Grant, icliverpool

The Beatles have them, so do Abba - even Shirley Bassey, so why don't legendary comics Morecambe and Wise have a tribute act?

They do now, thanks to the premise of a new production by the versatile The Right Size company under the direction of Kenneth Branagh.

Indeed, if Morecambe and Wise were still around today Mr B would be an ideal star guest to lay himself open to their good-natured ribbing starring in a play what Ern wrote.

Alas, Eric and Ernie have left a laughter legacy that will never be beaten.Those who compare Reeves and Mortimer are mere wishful thinkers.

Hamish McColl and Sean Foley are two actors familiar to Liverpool theatregoers for their brand of energetic surreal humour. They admit at the beginning of the show that they don't look like or sound like them but that doesn't stop them reluctantly putting on an Eric and Ernie tribute show. Each of this acrobatic double act wants to be Eric and there's plenty of scope to dissect their mass appeal. Ernie was the straight man but he was equally as funny. With Eric's son as consultant and their prolific scriptwriter Eddie Braben involved, there's plenty of gags - old and new - peppered throughout and some pure slapstick routines.

A series of linked sketches with colourful backdrops offer a promise of an Eric and Ernie traditional finale performed in their over-the-top style.

We see some familiar locations from Eric and Ernie's apartment with Ernie typing away at his latest work. Ern, in dressing gown is finishing his third play that morning. Sporting a cardigan and peering out the curtains, a restless Eric asks 'got writers' block, then?' There's also the two performers in front of the stage curtains chatting away with all the intimacy of the much-loved pair.

Throughout they are aided by Toby Jones who plays real-life theatrical producer David Pugh. He also dresses up to play Daryl Hannah and, in one surreal sequence, he is a French revolution crowd scene.

The first half takes some time to get in its stride. But after the interval when you see the top-hatted twosome descend the stairs in true song and dance style the pace becomes faster and funnier.

Once you realise that it is all a 'tribute' to Morecambe and Wise, the audience can relax more, forget the plot, and remember with great affection the scale of the comic duo's skills amassed over 42 years. As with all Eric and Ernie shows there's dance numbers and optimistic songs such as Bring Me Sunshine.

And there's the guest star who willingly lays him or herself open to ridicule and good natured abuse led by Eric's perfectly timed put-downs. Michael Starke, formerly of Brookside, joined the fun as the first in a series of guest stars signed up for the run featuring in the play within this play what Ernie wrote.

The Scarlet Pimple is the highlight of the evening a French Revolution playlet that gives farce a bad name with accurate recreations of the well-honed TV madness. There's plenty of sight gags too, props galore and one-liners accompanied by award-winning over-acting.

Messrs McColl and Foley succeed in conveying the fact that Eric loved Ernie, Ernie loved Eric and we the public loved them both.

The Playhouse production will help bring you some sunshine during the forthcoming Autumn nights.
(Thanks, Film Lover)

From Ananova, 28 October 2001

Stars Flock to Appear in Morecambe and Wise Play

Stars including Kylie Minogue, Victoria Beckham and Richard E. Grant are set to appear as guest stars in a play about Morecambe and Wise.

The comic duo were notorious for mocking celebrity guests on their classic TV shows. "The Play What I Wrote" opens on Wednesday October 31 at The Wyndhams Theatre in London.

One surprise guest is planned for each performance.

The play's director Kenneth Branagh has also received interest from Keanu Reeves, Naomi Campbell, Jude Law, Sean Connery, Lady Victoria Hervey, Rufus Sewell, Richard Wilson, Nigel Havers, Frank Skinner and Sue Johnston.

Eric Morecambe's son Gary told The Telegraph: "The funny thing is, that by the end of the play you forget that it's not Eric and Ernie on stage. "They put gags in and make digs about the celebrities just as those two did. It's very bizarre."

"The appeal of Morecambe and Wise is that they are timeless, because barbed conversation never really ages."
(Thanks, Rai)

From the Sunday Times, 4 November 2001

A New Show by the Duo The Right Size Is Breathing Life Back into the Comedy Legends Morecambe and Wise.

by Simon Fanshawe

How do you pay tribute to Morecambe and Wise, the men who could lure millions to the television set every Christmas to watch them call André Previn "Mr Preview", or to tell Sir Alec Guinness, in front of the velvet curtain: "I'm very sorry, we don't allow members of the public up here. If you're Mr Wise's taxi driver, would you mind waiting round the back?"

The double act known as The Right Size are, as Sean Foley - the taller, sillier of the two - admits, playing "with the holy grail of comedy" in their new Morecambe and Wise show, The Play What I Wrote. "We'd never get out of jail impersonating Eric and Ernie," says Hamish McColl, the shorter of the two, who serves as the pompous, pretentious one. But it has long seemed inevitable that they would end up doing it. The Right Size have spent most of their career being compared to Morecambe and Wise.

Working in small ensembles since the mid-1980s, McColl and Foley established themselves as a double act in 1994, with Stop Calling Me Vernon - a show about a double act on the brink of splitting up - from which they got not just great reviews and a sold-out run in Edinburgh, but also what McColl calls "a lot of cred business". Four years later, they were in the West End with Do You Come Here Often?, which won an Olivier Award. This piece was about two men who had been stuck in a bathroom for 25 years with only each other for company, and was their take on Brian Keenan and John McCarthy's appalling incarceration as hostages.

Onstage, McColl and Foley are genuine, unknowing fools who follow an authentic illogic to its conclusion. They combine hectic verbal routines that chase that illogic around and around with the physical discipline they learnt as students of the famous French clowning master Philippe Gaulier - even though they remained on his course in Paris for only five weeks, because they ran out of money.

Hovering above the physical and verbal slapstick, what they do onstage is essentially about the tensions between two men. It's possible to say that their characters have an almost Beckettian quality - but only if Beckett, while making them wait for Godot, had put Vladimir and Estragon on stage at the Glasgow Empire and made them tell jokes. It's this quality that led The Right Size to be cast in the Almeida's 1998 production of Brecht's Mr Puntila and his Man Matti, which was praised to the skies by reviewers.

Despite the modern-drama comparisons, there is no pretension to their comedy. They seduce the audience into helpless hysteria with a warm-heartedness that banishes cynicism, and their shows have the good-natured argy-bargy and poignancy of a genuine friendship. That is what they see in Morecambe and Wise. McColl talks of the "benign" world that Eric and Ernie lived in: "It was centred on their relationship, which was essentially extremely loving of each other." Foley reckons their appeal across generations and time is based on "charm, pure charm". And he adds: "Something that has been lost at the moment is that completely unironic feeling of fun."

It is no surprise that it is this same quality that the duo's eminent director, Kenneth Branagh, tackling a live comedy for the first time, has found in them. Lying on the floor of the dressing room before the first preview, Branagh quotes Bob Monkhouse on the subject of Laurel and Hardy. "He said: 'When you saw them, you knew they were going to be your friends.' I think that applies to Eric and Ernie." And McColl and Foley, he says, "occupy the same benign comic world. They have no Hancockian darkness".

The show what they eventually wrote is shaped around the famous elements of a Morecambe and Wise special, with routines in front of the velvet curtain, a big dance number to close the first act and a terrible play as the finale. But what they have finally come up with operates on several levels, hung around a plot. Hamish and Sean play a double act called "Hamish and Sean". They are about to split up, because

Hamish, the short one, thinks he isn't funny, and wants to leave to be a serious writer. Sean, "the tall one with glasses", in a last-ditch attempt to keep them together, takes up an offer from a West End producer called Mr Pugh to do a Morecambe and Wise tribute show, and persuades Hamish that this is a chance to do one of his plays, with big star names. Assuming he will have no chance of obtaining any real stars, he ropes in his friend Arthur from the pub to impersonate them instead. (Arthur is played by a terrific comic actor, Toby Jones, a shrunken version of his actor father, Freddie Jones, and an ideal foil. His wounded, defiant embarrassment while impersonating Daryl Hannah earns him a huge response at the curtain call.)

Naturally, though confusingly, The Play What I Wrote really is being produced by a Mr Pugh - David Pugh, the pixie-ish producer of the long-running hit play Art. In 1995, Pugh tried to convince The Right Size to develop a Morecambe and Wise show. They ate his nice lunches, then turned him down flat. But Pugh wouldn't give up.

He had already met Ernie - "'Mr Wise', as you had to call him" - and got his blessing. After Ernie's death, he negotiated the use of their material with the comedians' widows, and, most significantly, with Eddie Braben, Morecambe and Wise's main writer from 1969 onwards. Finally, McColl and Foley agreed.

Presumably aided by Branagh's address book, and by his own clout from the multiple star castings of Art, Pugh has rustled up real celebrities for The Play What I Wrote. They will be humiliated in front of the curtain, sent up in the play at the end and impersonated savagely by Jones. In the first week of previews, there appeared Richard Wilson, Sue

Johnston and Richard E Grant, each of whom had to appear in Hamish's masterpiece about revolutionary France, A Tight Squeeze for the Scarlet Pimple. Over the coming weeks, there will be Oscar nominees, a seriously famous pop star and various household names, all doing eight shows each. A considerable amount of dignity will be dismantled.

For Braben, the experience of working on the show (he has supplied about 20% of it, writing some new material and buffing up the old gags) has clearly been a moving one. "There was such affection between Eric and Ernie. When I wrote for them, going to the studio felt like going to the factory with your mates." It was Braben who re- invented them in their modern image. "I first saw them on black-and-white TV, and in a way, Ernie was too hard and Eric too stupid. That's what I changed. I gave them characters - the writing for Ernie, and Eric I made wiser, so to speak. We were very close. Writing gags for these boys, The Right Size, has been very emotional. I had to write them on the page as 'Eric and Ernie', then change them to 'Hamish and Sean'."

Braben says that Morecambe and Wise weren't really a double act - "It was a three-handed act. It was the two of them and the audience. And the audience were happy to be in that embrace." As people at the previews of The Play What I Wrote are showing, they still are, whatever their age or tastes in theatre. A bit of Eric and Ernie's sublime silliness may be exactly what audiences want right now.

The Play What I Wrote opens tomorrow at Wyndham's, W1
(Thanks, Gill)

From The Independent, 5 November 2001

Morecambe and Wise Tribute Brings Sunshine and Star Quality to Stage

by Terri Judd

Kenneth Branagh's tribute to the comic genius of Morecambe and Wise, The Play What I Wrote, brought a touch of sunshine to the West End of London last night.

Rowan Atkinson, Frank Skinner, Bruce Forsyth, Ronnie Corbett, Barry Humphries and Ben Elton were in the audience for the opening night at the Wyndham's Theatre. On stage, Ralph Fiennes was revealed as the star guest who customarily becomes the butt of the duo's banter.

The producers were keen to emphasise that The Play What I Wrote, which stars the comedians Hamish McColl and Sean Foley (aka The Right Size, winners of the Laurence Olivier Award), is not an imitation of the antics of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, although aspects of their show feature prominently.

"When we first approached The Right Size, they said, 'This is the Holy Grail, there is no way we can touch it'," explained the associate producer Dafydd Rogers last night.

The premise of the show is that the comedians have been asked to perform a play about Morecambe and Wise but will only do so if McColl is allowed to put on his own play, hence the tribute to Wise's famous "play what I wrote" catchphrase.

Celebrity guests will star in about eight shows throughout the run, and are said to have been lining up to take part, with Richard E Grant, Sue Johnstone and Richard Wilson among those to have already appeared in the previews.

Among those rumoured to have had talks or signed up for future shows are Sean Connery, Naomi Campbell, Jude Law, Victoria Beckham, Derek Jacobi, Brian Blessed, John Sessions and Rufus Sewell.

As well as being directed by the Oscar-winning Branagh, the performance has benefited from the consultancy of Gary Morecambe, the comedian's son, and the two men's widows.

Mr Morecambe said recently: "The funny thing is, by the end of the play you forget it's not Eric and Ernie on stage."

Mr Rogers added: "It is a tribute in the very real sense of the word to these icons of British comedy. We are all massive fans and it has beendone with love and affection."

Wise died two years ago, aged 73, while Morecambe - with whom he had been in partnership since the age of 16 - died at 58 in 1984.

While the script has been written with the help of Eddie Braben, 80, who assisted Morecambe and Wise on their phenomenally popular television show, it has been given a deliberately contemporary feel.

To avoid drawing comparisons, famous guests from the original show - such as Glenda Jackson - have not been included. But, of course, there was only one possible way to round off last night's show - with a re-enactment of the duo's famous song and dance routine, "Bring Me Sunshine".

From Reuters/Variety, 6 November 2001

The Best Comedy What I've Watched This Year
by Michael Coveney

The Play What I Wrote by Sean Foley, Hamish McColl and Eddie Braben: Wyndham's Theatre

Morecambe and Wise returned in spirit to the West End last night in the funniest and most inventive new comedy of the year.

The premise is not one of simple reproduction, but of sniffing round the essence of our favourite television comics and absorbing their tricks and fads into the existing double act of the Right Size. The Right Size are Sean Foley and Hamish McColl, a superb, surreal fringe duo trying to revive their act with Hamish's play called 'A Tight Squeeze for the Scarlet Pimple'. They are helped and hindered by squat little Toby Jones as Arthur the electrician, who also fills in for characters such as a windswept Daryl Hannah, the campish real life producer David Pugh as in 'take a pew', 'I don't mind if I do' (actor sits on other actor's knee) and an irate Morecambe and Wise fan.

That fan rose from the stalls last night between Barry Humphries and Ken Campbell, a comedy alliance of smart grandeur and low-level vaudeville that encapsulated the atmosphere of an extraordinary event. The time is 1759 call it six o'clock and the show is stymied because Sir Ian McKellen, this evening's guest, is still in the pub. He then defects to pantomime in Bolton. The show does, however, come with a guaranteed guest celebrity.

Preview audiences have already had Richard Wilson, Sue Johnstone and Richard E. Grant. Last night, we had 'Sir' Ralph Fiennes, in a dressing gown, whom the lads mistake for Rolf Harris.

'Well, Ralph,' says Sean. 'It's Rafe.' 'Well, put some cream on it.' Immediately you recall all those thespians of bygone TV specials standing on their dignity and falling off.

Sean and Hamish, abetted by Morecambe and Wise's best writer, Eddie Braben, and directed by Kenneth Branagh, no less, have concocted a wildly orginal and theatrical tribute show. Sean has an earthy, bendylegged brilliance as a sort-of Eric, while Hamish redefines Ernie's self- deluding competence as a dreamlike state of bug-eyed delight. Especially when told he has achieved the ultimate in comedy by winning inaudible laughs.

Until last night Ralph Fiennes had not been renowned for his comedy skills. But the star of such films as The English Patient and Schindler's List proved he can seriously play the clown. His partner Francesca Annis (left) roared along with the rest of the audience as Fiennes (above) donned powdered white wig and hooped skirt for one hilarious scene with Hamish McColl.

Director Kenneth Branagh said: 'Ralph just surrendered himself to the comedy.'

From Daily Mail, 6 November 2001

Comic Duo Brought to Life in London Comedy Hit
by Paul Majendie

Take Britain's most famous comic duo, mix in a renowned director and offer a new star every night -- it's the perfect cocktail for a London theater hit. And in these dark days when the news is all gloom, the inspired silliness of "The Play What I Wrote" has proved to be the perfect antidote.

During the 1970s, up to 30 million Britons -- half the population -- tuned in to Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise's television specials every Christmas. Even the Royal Family would fit their Christmas dinner around the show.

Now the late comics are being lovingly reincarnated by actor-clowns Hamish McColl and Sean Foley in a slick show directed with elan by Oscar-nominated actor Kenneth Branagh.

And the show offers a delightful twist every night -- the duo inveigle showbusiness stars into performing an appalling play within a play. They are mercilessly mocked throughout. First up on the block was Ralph Fiennes, star of the Oscar-laden "The English Patient," who turned in a performance of pure ham. Next came fellow actor Richard E. Grant and comic Richard Wilson. Now associate producer Davydd Rogers says: "Several major pop stars are keen to do it. Agents are now ringing us. It is a lot of fun and the news has passed by word of mouth."

Critics loved the play, now set for a six-month run. "You leave floating on a cloud of happiness," declared the Daily Telegraph. "The pacing of the gags is merciless," said the Times. Rogers believes the timing of the show is perfect. "With all the news that is happening right now, people embrace it. It's just old-fashioned entertainment and there is no edge to it," he said.

And the show boasts an emotional link to the original Morecambe and Wise -- their scriptwriter Eddie Braben has polished up the old jokes and provided new dialogue. "He is really hands on," Rogers said. "He saw it on opening night and found it an extraordinarily emotional experience. "It was only the third time he had seen a standing ovation -- first for Laurel and Hardy, then for Morecambe and Wise and now this."

But don't hold your breath if you are waiting for comic subtlety. The gags come thick and fast but it's pure music hall as the dynamic duo swap quips:

"Are you of noble stock?"

"No, my father was a grocer. I'm of vegetable stock."

From The Financial Times, 7 November 2001

More Than Homage to Comic History
by Alastair Macauley

The Right Size tribute to Morecambe and Wise, The Play What I Wrote, takes you over by stages. It starts elaborately clever, becomes adorable, reaches giddy heights of farce and self-mockery, and ends up innocent: gloriously, touchingly innocent.

As a tribute to the British comedy duo, it works precisely because it establishes - makes jokes about - just how unlike its two stars are to Morecambe and Wise. You then find it all the easier to see just what aspects of Morecambe and Wise they do catch.

This isn't imitation, this isn't homage, it's something deeper. It's spiritual affinity. You don't feel you've seen Morecambe and Wise all over again. You feel you've been taken back into that state of blithe, daft, transporting bliss into which, for decades, Morecambe and Wise used to take their British audience. It's been months since I laughed quite so much as I did here, and yet that's not the most important thing. The Play What I Wrote is cathartic, and it is clever enough to let you see that. I left feeling that I'd come through laughter into some rare condition of childlike rapture.

The Right Size is comprised of Hamish McColl and Sean Foley, and here they collaborate with Eddie Braben (who wrote for Morecambe and Wise for years), with Kenneth Branagh (who returns to the West End as their director) - and, of course, with a guest star. The guest stars really do change, I'm reliably informed.

On press night, most of Act Two seemed built around Ralph Fiennes. No, "Sir Ralph" couldn't appear. Since the much-discussed Sir Ian McKellen hadn't appeared in Act One, this was scarcely a surprise. So Sean's earnest little friend Arthur (Toby Jones) - who has already disguised himself as both the theatre impresario David Pugh and as Darryl Hannah, convincing Hamish every time - now turns up as the star of The English Patient, wearing a balaclava of bandages and an old-school dressing-gown and lines like "I've crashed my Sopwith Camel and the posh girl's got the hump."

When the real Ralph Fiennes turns up, Sean treats him like an impostor, Arthur gets the hump, and Hamish keeps pronouncing "Ralph" to rhyme with "Balfe". "It's Ralph", says Fiennes, correctly rhyming it with "chafe". "Well," says Sean, "put some cream on it". Then Fiennes, rehearsing, insists "I want a soliloquy." "What," says Hamish in alarm, "before you go on?" Then they treat him with Olde Worlde deference: "Now off to your dressing-room, ye poppet." The variations on Ralph's name keep going - riff-raff-ralf-rafe - until Sean decides he must be Rolf Harris. Fiennes appears with them in the French revolution play what Hamish has wrote, A Tight Squeeze for the Scarlet Pimple- and starts with the line "I am a forlorn Comte -" ("Hold it there. Can he say that?" "Comte?" "No, forlorn.")

The Play What I Wrote is a radiant example of perhaps the hardest genre to bring off: a comedy about comedy. On press night, the audience was a Who's Who of British humour, and the Python beside me was laughing as much as I or more. Inspired silliness like this is a blessing on us all.

From The Independent, 7 November 2001

The Old Ones Are the Best
by Jonathan Myerson

This is the age of the tribute band, where audiences would rather wallow in yesterday's genius than embrace the unpredictable new. There's an easy, nostalgic buck to be made from rehash. So it was merely a matter of time before comedy got in on the re-act. Why write your own jokes, why devise your own routines when you can recycle someone else's, when the cream of their cream is yours to skim off? And if you're not actually funny, you'll get the reminiscent, wishful-thinking laughs anyway.

Of course, this particular rerun is neatly wrapped up in a postmodern premise. Hamish, played by Hamish McColl, has discovered straight theatre, written the eponymous play and wants to quit their double act. Sean, played by Sean Foley, has meanwhile booked them into Wyndham's Theatre to do a show about Morecambe and Wise. So, aided by his mate Arthur the Electrician, played by someone imaginatively called Toby, he spends the first half talking Hamish out of doing A Tight Squeeze For the Scarlet Pimple, and, instead, into doing Morecambe and Wise. (As though there was any difference in the first place).

So I steeled myself for a second half of more warmed-up gags and contrived situations. I was cruelly disappointed. It was incredibly funny. Damn them, I laughed until I cried and so did nearly everyone else. Having already impersonated Darryl Hannah to pacify Hamish, Arthur is now called on to give his Ralph Fiennes, but he's genuinely upstaged when - inevitably - the real Ralph walks on. Instantly "Eric" is insulting him, taking him for Rolf Harris, and "Ernie" is fawning and blundering.

Does it matter that I'm watching Sean Foley do all Eric's timing, all his shtick? No, I'm laughing precisely because I've watched Eric do it a zillion times and I want to see it again. And again and again. And there's the added frisson of Ralph "Carry On English Patient" Fiennes up there in person, on the stage, making a competent idiot of himself. So if Ralph doesn't care that these are fakes, that this is an upfront tribute show, I don't care either.

Enough weepy-eyed nostalgia, back to the reviewing: was there any drama here, was this actually a play? No, not in the least. Anyone who has ever seen the artfully constructed personality battles that were a National Theatre of Brent show will know how the structure of an "impromptu" performance can be used to surreally tell a story of the actors' own personalities. But even under Kenneth Branagh's barnstorming direction, there is nothing here. Foley is "rubber-legged" and mugs well (if too often and too obviously), but don't ask me to say anything about his character. And McColl is even more obscure, revealing even less of himself than even Ernie Wise.

Only Toby Jones brought occasional, daft strains of originality. But, damn and blast them, if you want the old gags, the old routines "plus surprise celebrity guest", you can't hope for a better wallow.

From The Independent

A Nice Little Ernie
by Caitlin Moran

A re-creation of Morecambe and Wise is an unlikely triumph Comedians have, in their time, had many stupid ideas. Sean Hughes’s first volume of poetry. Woody Allen naming a child Satchel. Sean Hughes’s novel. Rob Newman suddenly deciding to name himself Rob"ert" Newman. Sean Hughes’s second volume of poetry.

Inexplicably, however, Sean Foley and Hamish McColl’s extremely stupid idea — a play that "captures" the spirit of Morecambe and Wise directed by Kenneth Branagh — works. In fact, The Play What I Wrote more than works — it evokes the spirit of E & E so perfectly that you’ll leave Wyndham’s Theatre slightly bewildered as to why you are not wearing a garish dressing-gown and eating sardines on toast in front of the television in 1977. And, most importantly, it’s so funny that if, like me, you should happen to be sitting behind Richard Briers when you watch it, you’ll laugh so hard you will smatter the back of his head with spit. Sorry, Sir Good Life.

The plot is Morecambe and Wise to the bone. Hamish, the double act’s straight man, is so dispirited with their lack of success that he threatens to quit. Panicked, Sean tells him that he’s managed to get Hamish’s terrible French Revolutionary play, The Scarlet Pimple, booked into Wyndham’s. But he tells the theatre that they are putting on a much more box-office friendly tribute to Morecambe and Wise.

As the lies start to show, Sean ropes in his mate Arthur (Toby Jones) to pretend to be the guest stars they’re lacking, including Daryl Hannah and Ralph Fiennes. The tiny, cherubic Jones does this with all the aplomb of a gin-soaked Truman Capote pretending to be Mickey Rooney — until the real, authentic, 100 per cent star guest, Ralph Fiennes, turns up, playing a luvvie parody of himself so hammy that you could cater an entire wedding with his behind.

In true Morecambe and Wise style, within five minutes of Fiennes appearing, he is wearing a crinoline and embarked on a huge musical number which ends with him smuggling Hamish and Sean back to England under his skirt (Sean, gazing upwards: "I must look up an old friend").

Although the whole thing is so fabulously silly ("Are you of noble stock?" "No, my father was a grocer, I’m of vegetable stock") you’ll feel like skipping to the bar in the interval with a balloon tied to each wrist. The pacing of the gags is merciless, and the energy so intense you half expect Mark Lamarr to appear in the interval and urge us to switch off Foley and McColl when we’re not using them, in order to save the dolphins. It’s a mathematical impossibility to leave the theatre unhappy. Until they invent a genius-calibrating machine, I’m guessing at 96 per cent genius.

From BBC Online

Branagh's West End Triumph

Hamish McColl and Sean Foley played the comedy duo Kenneth Branagh's production of The Play What I Wrote - a tribute to comedy duo Morecambe and Wise - has been given rave reviews after its first night.

Celebrities including Ben Elton, Barry Humphries, Angus Deayton and Richard Briers were in the audience to see the show's opening night at London's Wyndham Theatre. And the critics have given the show a unanimous thumbs-up.

"Incredibly funny," wrote Jonathan Myerson in the Independent - while the Times' Caitlin Moran called it "96% genius".


The Daily Mail's Michael Coveney said it was "the funniest and most inventive new comedy of the year".

Branagh's directorial triumph comes a day after winning an Emmy best actor award for his role in the film Conspiracy.

The Play What I Wrote has also earned plaudits for comedians Sean Foley and Hamish McColl - who star in the show.

The play, written by Foley and McColl - and based on material by Morecambe and Wise scriptwriter Eddie Braben - centres on the duo's attempts to get a real-life celebrity to appear in one of Ernie Wise's own appalling plays.


Branagh has lined up a series of surprise celebrities to make an appearance during the play's run at the Wyndham Thetare - including, it is reported, Victoria Beckham and Kylie Minogue.

Other said to be in discussions with the play's producers include actors Richard E Grant, Keanu Reeves and Jude Law, model Naomi Campbell and comedian Frank Skinner.

On Monday night film star Ralph Fiennes guested. Fiennes told BBC Breakfast: "It seemed like a fun thing to do, and the script is very funny and the guys are amazing."

Actor Richard Briers, who was in the audience for the opening night, said: "It's so funny we all laughed for one hour and 55 minutes without stopping - it's just a lovely, lovely show."

Morecambe and Wise were one of the best-loved comedy acts the UK ever produced, and appeared regularly on BBC TV for many years. Eric Morecambe died in 1984, and Ernie Wise in 1999.

From The Guardian , Wednesday November 7, 2001

Nostalgic Innuendo from the Right Size

The Play What I Wrote
Wyndham's Theatre, London
Rating: *****

by Michael Billington

More theatre about theatre. But in the case of this recklessly, tear-inducingly funny show, no one is going to complain. What we get is both a joyous re-creation of Morecambe and Wise's act and an acute study of the emotional and professional interdependence on which any double act relies.

The duo who make up the Right Size - the balding, rubber-legged Sean Foley and the prickly, saucer-eyed Hamish McColl - are always at their best when they have a strong narrative to bounce off, as in Brecht's Mr Puntila and His Man Matti. Here the idea is that they are a dissolving double act booked by producer David Pugh to do a West End show; the only problem is that McColl assumes it is to present one of his 72 unproduced plays, while Foley knows it is to stage a Morecambe and Wise tribute. This involves riotously elaborate deceptions in which a third party, the gnome-like Toby Jones, is obliged to impersonate both an archly desperate Pugh and a heavily bewigged Daryl Hannah, described as "half woman, half kipper".

The fun intensifies in the second half when they stage Foley's dreadful Scarlet Pimpernel play and evoke golden memories of Morecambe and Wise. We get a surprise guest, currently Ralph Fiennes, who, invited to give his Sir Percy, is constantly mocked, humiliated and mistaken for Rolf Harris. We also get a script that bears the unmistakable imprint of Eddie Braben, who wrote all the classic Morecambe and Wise BBC sketches. When Fiennes, as a disguised French aristo, cries "I am a forlorn conte", and Foley steps in with an admonitory "Hold it there, sir", we are taken back to the golden age of Yuletide innuendo.

The show, directed by Kenneth Branagh with genuine pace and invention, is partly nostalgia. But it is also a postmodern study in the development of the double act. Just as Abbott and Costello, among many others, begat Eric and Ernie, so Morecambe and Wise have influenced the Right Size. The difference is that the modern duo agonise over which is the comic and which is the straight man: at one point a desperate McColl is reassured by Jones that he gets "inaudible laughs". But the show's healing conclusion is that in any double act, neither partner can be funny without the other.

The real joy of the evening, however, is that the gags come thick and fast. "What a joy it is to see your Sir Percy" may not sound much in cold print, but in the context of this show it is hilarious. The spirit of Dionysus is once more alive in the land.

Booking until April 20. Box office: 020-7369 1736

From ITV News

Wot an Entrance for Ralph

'Schindler's List' star Ralph Fiennes has made a surprise performance in the new West End comedy show "The Play Wot I Wrote".

Kenneth Branagh directs the West End production which is about two struggling comedians who stage a tribute show to the Seventies comedy stars Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. The 'play wot I wrote' - featuring a badly-written work acted strictly for laughs - was a running gag for years in the Morecambe & Wise repertoire. As part of the gag they always needed a put-upon celebrity for the end of the show.

And it would seem that Fiennes will not be the only A-list celeb to appear in this homage. Rumour has it that Kylie, Posh Spice and even Keanu Reeves are also lined up.

Fiennes, who starred in 'Schindler's List' and 'The English Patient', is more used to the Hollywood limelight than London's West End. Director Ken said despite Ralph's serious image there has always been a comedian waiting to get out. The English Patient star said it was an offer he could not resist. He showed off his theatrical flourishes, dancing and singing to the delight of the audience.

From The Express, 9 November 2001

The Weekend Starts Here - Gallows Humour: Theatre

THE PLAY WHAT I WROTE Wyndham's Theatre, London WC2, 020 7369 1736

This new comedy is the oddest hybrid in London. It is a tribute to Morecambe and Wise and at the same time an original new work from The Right Size (consisting of Sean Foley and Seamus McColl), the funniest stage duo since The National Theatre Of Brent.

Their director for this is Kenneth Branagh, no less, and as a script writer they've roped in old Eddie Braben who penned Morecambe and Wise's finest hours. THE PLAY WHAT I WROTE is basically the story of two double acts - one living, one dead - and a cunning exploration of the spirit of joy that informs both. At first you worry that tall Sean Foley (Eric) and hairy Hamish McColl (Ernie) have missed a trick by being all arty and not doing the voices properly, but the boys slip in and out of character brilliantly as Ernie unleashes his dreadful play what he wrote about the French Revolution.

There's brilliant support from Toby Jones, the nerd who never gets a look in, and the essentials of the TV originals are all met.

Each week there will be a different, pompous guest star. We got Ralph Fiennes on the opening night - and terrific he was too. Eric thinks Ralph Fiennes is the brother of Parking Fiennes or Rolf Harris, he is not sure.

This hilarious act of comic cannibalism-mad slapstick brings sunshine to a gloomy West End. Fans may argue it is not close enough, but it is undeniably fresh, vivid and rooted in the classy end of Fringe. Quite what the dwindling band of American tourists will make of it all, I haven't the faintest.

The International Herald Tribune, Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Comedy, Tragedy, Tribute
Shakespeare to Vaudeville, and a Touch of Nostalgia

Sheridan Morley

Never underestimate the possibility of surprise in West End comedies. I have to admit that I turned out to see "The Play What I Wrote" expecting very little. Sean Foley and Hamish McColl, whose double-act The Right Size cabaret team has been touring fringe theaters for quite some time, were about to take on Morecambe Wise, and I wondered who needed yet another tribute show, given that in this case the original duo is still readily available on tape.

Well, we do. After a sketchy first half, choreographed by the veteran and ever-wonderful Irving Davies, in which they essentially do a medley of their previous hit, the Right Size lads have wisely gone back to Eddie Braben, the original "Eric and Ernie" TV writer, who has cobbled together one of their usual dramatic fiascos, this one memorably entitled "A Tight Squeeze for the Scarlet Pimple."

They have also enlisted, as did Eric and Ernie in their TV spectaculars, some very classical assistance, notably Kenneth Branagh as director and (on the first night at least) Ralph Fiennes as the guest star, along with a rubbery comic named Toby Jones. The result at the Wyndham is the most anarchic, surreal and original comedy to have hit the West End in ages. Made up of leftover bits of vaudeville, revue, burlesque and sitcoms, this is a "Hellzapoppin" for the new century and an unofficial, brief guide to stage and screen comedy in the last.

Some of the jokes are beyond-belief terrible and the entire production seems to have been brought in for 50 quid counting salaries, but the same anarchic spirit survives. And as for Fiennes, if Hollywood ever abandons him, he has a useful sideline as a music-hall stooge.
(This is part of a longer review of the London theatre scene - RG)

Los Angeles Times - Calendar, Sunday, 27 January 2002

A One-Two Punch Line
A British Duo Re-creates Another Pair's Sketches While Showing How Two People Create Humor. Get it?

By Barbara Isenberg

Sean Foley and Hamish McColl, known collectively as the Right Size, can turn almost anything into comedy. Two balloonists crashing through a villager's roof in the far frozen north of England. Two middle-aged golfers who disappear behind a sofa. Two vaudevillians who can't leave the stage. Two complete strangers trapped in a bathroom together for 25 years.

But when it came to performing as Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, arguably the most famous of all British comedy duos, the Olivier Award-winning Right Size drew the line. They'd be impertinent but not impersonators. Besides, nobody could really re-create the comedy of the late Morecambe and Wise, who at their peak in 1977 reached one-half of the U.K.'s population with their Christmas show. Producer David Pugh, however, is not an easy man to turn down. He took Yasmina Reza's award-winning play "Art" around the world, shepherding 27 English language productions to more than 5 million people. Pugh thought if anyone could capture the spirit of Morecambe and Wise, it would be the Right Size. Plenty of meetings, workshops and rehearsals later, the Right Size is playing on the West End, reminding Britons of the comedy shows they loved and reminding Americans that Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Burns and Allen, Rowan and Martin and the Smothers Brothers had no monopoly on double acts.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh and replete with such mystery guests as Ralph Fiennes and Ewan McGregor, "The Play What I Wrote" has the biggest advance for a play in West End history. Earlier this month, it received four nominations for the 2002 Olivier Awards. With its silly songs, dances, ventriloquism and rat-infested dungeon, "The Play What I Wrote" simultaneously captures the comedy of both Morecambe and Wise and the Right Size. "While we're trying to evoke the comic spirit of Morecambe and Wise, the boys are very original artists in their own right," Branagh says. "We didn't want a replay or an exercise in nostalgia."

This is the 12th show in 14 years for "the boys," McColl, 39, and Foley, 37, two actor-comics who first met in 1987 when both were studying in Paris with the French comic Philipe Gaulier. For their first show a year later, they made all the costumes and props. And when the show's title was changed to "Que Sera" from "The Right Size," the latter phrase wound up as the company's name, McColl says, "since we liked everybody's aspirations to be the right size."

While "The Play What I Wrote" marks their third appearance on the West End, they are probably best known for their work in the Edinburgh Fringe and smaller venues here and in other countries. In India, where they performed in the dark for 40 minutes after a Calcutta theater's lighting went out, a critic referred to their work as "the most hilarious experience ever witnessed." A critic for Edinburgh's Scotsman newspaper once suggested they be canonized.

Onstage, Foley specializes in physical humor, while McColl plays straight man, worrying aloud that he isn't funny enough. McColl's character, who is also named Hamish, has made a scratchy record album on which he recorded the one laugh he got years ago. But even as Foley's character, who is also named Sean, plays that record for the audience, his ribbing is still more benign than mean.

Although the Right Size reflects the English music hall tradition that spawned Morecambe and Wise, its humor is in many ways universal. While there are such trademark gags in "The Play What I Wrote" as Morecambe and Wise's catch phrases, twisted eyeglasses and funny skip dances, the theater is filled with foreigners and young people who have no idea who Morecambe and Wise were. "You might wonder about the eyeglasses or things like that," McColl says, "but you're not going to get robbed of a sense of understanding the piece." Branagh agrees, adding that "if you find people falling over funny, no subtitles required. Partly because of their comedy inflection, partly because of the way the boys play it, even if you don't get the point of the joke, you can still get the intent from the good-hearted, good-natured delivery. The audience feels safe."

It's no doubt similar to what families here felt watching Morecambe and Wise's television specials, which ran from 1961 to 1983. Moving from vaudeville to television, Morecambe and Wise offered not just original puns, pratfalls, song and dance, but a series of inane comedy sketches featuring such "mystery guests" as Glenda Jackson, Andre Previn, John Gielgud, TV anchors and government officials. Even the royal family would delay Christmas dinner until the annual TV show ended. Pugh and his family watched them too, and several years ago, the 38-year-old theatrical producer began acquiring rights to the Morecambe and Wise material. When he saw the Right Size's 1998 "Do You Come Here Often?," an Olivier Award-winning play about two men stuck in a bathroom for 25 years, he immediately called "the boys" and took them to lunch.

"The boys" weren't convinced. "We said no," McColl recalls, "because in this country, Morecambe and Wise are an institution which were supremely loved, still are remembered very fondly and repeated a lot on television." Neither a bio play nor impersonating them sounded right either, adds Foley. "And with their relationship to the British public, people would just say, 'Well, you're not Morecambe and Wise, and get off the stage, please.'"

But Foley and McColl too were fans, so they kept looking for ways to bring them back. "When we hit on the idea of seeing them through the eyes of another double act (like us)," McColl says, "that was really the key. After that, we were able to escape the idea of impersonation and address the wider issue of double acts in general: how they operate, who does what, who thinks he's funny, who thinks he's more important, who thinks he's less important. We've worked together a lot, so it became something we were able to personalize."

They set about "plundering this enormously rich treasure trove of Morecambe and Wise material," McColl continues, "and sort of cherry-picking what we felt best suited the contemporary audience, our sense of humor and the shape of the piece." Pugh provided funds for a workshop and the hiring of a third actor, Toby Jones, who plays such roles during the show as producer Pugh and the "half-girl, half-kipper" Daryl Hannah of "Splash" fame.

Having decided they would benefit from outside direction, Pugh brought them together with Branagh. Pugh had worked for Robert Fox, producer of Branagh's 1982 London theatrical debut in "Another Country," and recalled how the actor would do Morecambe impressions backstage. Also aware that Branagh had an excellent Rolodex for potential mystery guests, Pugh called and suggested the actor-director meet with Foley and McColl. The team hit it off and began work. A script developed, drawing on improvisation by McColl, Foley and Jones. Eddie Braben, 80, who wrote for Morecambe and Wise, also contributed some new gags, McColl says, "as well as gave his blessing to our putting a retread on some of the old ones." "The Play What I Wrote" has the audience laughing from its opening scene: two guys standing up in a bed singing about two guys standing up in a bed singing. Early on, the versatile Jones appears as a gun-toting member of the "Morecambe and Wise Appreciation Society (Military Wing)," and there are show-stopping moments for chicken impersonations and other sublimely ridiculous skits. In one of the show's best and most poignant routines, McColl is consoled about his ability to get laughs—the delayed laugh, the laugh of anticipation, and the most sophisticated and no doubt valuable of them all, "the inaudible laugh."

The show got off to a slow start, with very low advances. But once it opened and received unanimous raves from critics, says Pugh, box office went from a $31,460 advance to $730,730 in 72 hours, toppling a record held by Alan Bennett's "The Lady in the Van" with Maggie Smith. The show recouped its investment in eight weeks, adds Pugh, and advances now stand at more than $858,000.

McColl takes particular pride in the audience not being able to see "the join" between their material and that of Morecambe and Wise. "The trick of the show is that so much of our stuff is written à la Morecambe and Wise," Foley adds. "On first glance, people say, 'They did that 20 years ago on TV,' and we say,'We just wrote it six months ago.'"

Inspired by Morecambe and Wise's playlets, "The Play What I Wrote" also features an overwritten, overacted play in period costume. Each evening, an invited guest takes a role in the Bastille scene of "A Tight Squeeze for the Scarlet Pimple," heralded as the first of 72 plays penned by McColl's character to be produced.

Each guest enters to a sort of roast-cum-introduction. Minnie Driver, for instance, was greeted with the question "Exactly what have you done?" And when she replied that she'd been in 20 films, Foley inquired if any of them had been developed. The Right Size is joined in the Bastille scene by Jones, a rubber-faced actor just over 5 feet tall who writes many of his lines. With Fiennes, the first mystery guest, Jones appeared in bandages as "The English Patient" and came onstage talking about the desert. With McGregor, he appeared in a kilt and sang songs from the film "Moulin Rouge." Mystery guest Branagh was introduced as "the man who thinks he's William Shakespeare," after which Jones came on dressed as a knight, ranting about "the unleashing of the dogs of war—the St. Bernards, the Dalmatians."

Branagh says actors have called him to appear in the show, and Pugh adds that nobody has turned him down yet. "We pay them £500 ($715) a performance," Pugh says, "and they all want to do it. The Evening Standard said last week that of the 100 most chic things to be in 2002, No. 1 was to be a guest star in 'The Play What I Wrote.'"

U.S. audiences will possibly be able to judge for themselves. "Do You Come Here Often?" played at P.S. 122, a performance space on New York's Lower East Side, and Pugh says he's now speaking with producers about bringing this show to America as well. "Morecambe and Wise did six spots on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' and were a big success," Pugh says. "They were about to come to America to perform when Eric had his first heart attack and that stopped them. We'd love to go to New York, and we'd love to do Los Angeles. Hollywood is a perfect place to get guest stars."

Barbara Isenberg, whose latest book is "State of the Arts: California Artists Talk About Their Work," is a regular contributor to Calendar.