Review: The Play What I Wrote. Cambridge Arts Theatre

The Play What I Wrote

Cambridge Arts Theatre

21st February 2022

Twenty years after its original West End run (and the Broadway transfer which followed), ‘The Play What I Wrote’ is currently enjoying a well-received UK anniversary tour, and plays the Cambridge Arts Theatre this week.

Written by Hamish McColl, Sean Foley and Eddie Braben, the play tells the story of Dennis & Thom, friends and comedy partners, who are struggling to find success.  Thom has aspirations of being a playwright (which he is, just not a very good one), and Dennis wants to explore other ideas.  Desperate for cash, Dennis tricks Thom into believing that they’re going to be putting on his latest (bad) play thanks to a fake offer from a ‘glittering West End producer’, though they’re actually going to be appearing in a show about Morecambe & Wise.  The first act revolves around this deception, while Act 2 takes the form of the classic ‘play within a play’ which the legendary comedians featured on their show, a deliberately bad skit involving The Scarlet Pimple, wobbly scenery, overacting and painfully bad dialogue.

Those who aren’t fans of farce and slapstick will find much of this play just a bridge too far, with the silliness ramped up to 11 and a never-ending parade of seemingly “bad” Dad-jokes.  But for audiences who embrace such daftness, ‘The Play What I Wrote’ gets it (mostly) just right, and is a real tonic.  If you’ve had a bad day and you just want to see someone get hit in the face with a giant fake breadstick, this is the ticket for you.  Of course, the play is much more than that; the script is clever, and comes at you thick and fast, brilliantly delivered by the cast. Performances are impressively physical, and the jokes come in the forms of both wordy witticisms and also visual gags, both of which hit their mark repeatedly throughout the show.

The cast of 3 work incredibly hard throughout the show, and deliver fantastic comic turns.  Dennis Herdman and Thom Tuck make a great partnership, their chemistry wonderfully echoing that of Morecambe & Wise. Tuck’s all-too-brief impression of Eric Morecambe is a thing of brilliance and captures the legendary comedian perfectly.  Mitesh Soni is also superb as Arthur (& others), the long-suffering friend who just wants to play his harmonica.  Soni also gets a lot of comedy mileage from the other characters he plays, and does a great job.

The play isn’t entirely successful – it does struggle to consistently fill its already-short running time, and sometimes the comedy comes off as a little too broad, the jokes veering into “Christmas cracker” territory and generating groans rather than consistent laughs; but that could be said of a lot of Morecambe & Wise’s original style, and what does work, works really well.

‘The Play What I Wrote’ is well known for having a celebrity guest star appear in the second act.  Previous famous faces have included Tom Hiddleston, Ralph Fiennes, Charles Dance and even Sir Ian McKellen.  For the sake of spoilers, the Cambridge guest star for the second act will remain a surprise for those attending this week, but the person was a lot of fun, really throwing themselves into the silliness and getting into the spirit of the piece.  This latter half was a real reminder of just how endearing daft Morecambe & Wise were, and you can’t help but smile.

Honouring a simpler “golden age” of comedy, ‘The Play What I Wrote’ is both a loving tribute to one of the greatest double acts of all time, and a successful standalone piece of theatre in its own right.  It really does “Bring (Me) Sunshine”.  Get booking and give your funny-bone a treat.

‘The Play What I Wrote’ runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday 26th February 2022, before concluding its UK Tour at the Sheffield Lyceum in March.

Performance run time 2 hours including interval.

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