Mega movie star is mystery guest on the Chichester stage

The Play What I Wrote, Chichester Festival Theatre, February 8-12.
Thom Tuck and Dennis Herdman in The Play What I Wrote - Credit Manuel HarlanThom Tuck and Dennis Herdman in The Play What I Wrote - Credit Manuel Harlan
Thom Tuck and Dennis Herdman in The Play What I Wrote - Credit Manuel Harlan

Are we allowed to reveal the identity of the special guest? Absolutely not, I assume. But if you get the same one we had on Tuesday night, you really, really won’t be disappointed.

If you know a little bit about the recent history of the show, then maybe this particular guest won’t seem too much of a surprise. But that takes nothing away from the thrill of seeing him take the stage.

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And boy, was he game, absolutely into the spirit of it, effortlessly funny and clearly as amused as we were, delivering those Ernie-Wise style lines – what he wrote – with wonderful and withering weariness.

The first half was maybe a little bit rambling, too much mention of the show’s producer, a bit of a mixed bag in fact, perhaps even a little low-key, but the second half was marvellous in so many ways for a night that will send you out on a massive high.

Hamish McColl and Sean Foley’s play was a huge hit two decades ago with the writers themselves on the stage. Thom Tuck and Dennis Herdman (see interview here) now step into their shoes to bring us the 20th anniversary revival, with Mitesh Soni completing the three-hander.

The gist is that Thom and Dennis, going under their real names, are a double act who are diverging.

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Thom – the Ernie Wise of the piece – is convinced he is a fabulous dramatist that the stars will flock to. Dennis – the Morecambe of the night – is intent on sabotaging the play just so they might get back together as the double act they once were.

As the performers stress, they aren’t doing Eric and Ernie impressions. Well, at least not in the first half. But in the second, as the mystery guest arrives and they embark on the play, they do get closer and closer to the originals, the great legends that we all grew up with.

And that’s when mayhem ensues, brilliantly­-orchestrated silliness served up with huge enthusiasm – not least by our mystery guest – and with huge mastery of the art of comedy.

It’s a great laugh. Precisely what we need right now. Did we really see who we saw? Of course, we did – but maybe the biggest memory will be just how great a time he was having.