By Jay Darcy
I’d never heard of The Play What I Wrote until last year, when I read that it was coming to the Lowry. Apparently that’s scandalous, given my job, but you need only to glance at my profile to see that my forte is musicals, not plays. Whilst some people hate musicals because characters suddenly burst into song, I’m the opposite: when watching a play, I ask, where’s the music?!
This play did have a little singing, and it certainly had a musical quality to it, especially in terms of its production value. That’s one of the two reasons I wanted to see it.
The show can be considered a celebration of the British comedy double act Morecambe and Wise. It’s also an irreverent and farcical exploration of the nature of double acts in general. Its title is drawn from one of Morecambe and Wise’s catchphrases, as is “A Tight Squeeze for the Scarlet Pimple” (the play within a play which forms the play’s second half). It is named after the “play wot I wrote”, a series of inept plays, supposedly written by a proud Ernie Wise, and featuring a celebrity guest which formed the finale to each Morecambe and Wise show.
In The Play What I Wrote, the character Sean writes a similarly inept play. As in the Morecambe and Wise antecedent, the celebrity would play him or herself set up to appear, rather foolishly, as the title character of this play within a play.
During the show’s London run, the special guests included Ralph Fiennes (on opening night), Ewan McGregor, Bob Geldof, Cilla Black, and Sue Johnston. The Broadway run included Kevin Kline, Alan Alda, Jeff Goldblum, Daniel Radcliffe, and Roger Moore (who suffered a heart attack onstage one night during the performance). Other notable guests to be featured in the show include Daniel Radcliffe, Dawn French, Joanna Lumley, Kylie Minogue, Nigel Havers, Sting, Sue Holderness, and Tom Hiddleston.
Unashamedly phased by celebrities, that’s the other reason I wanted to watch this play – in hopes of seeing a legendary action take to the stage. I joked that our “special” guest would be a Corrie star, and when I realised that I was sat amongst half the Corrie cast, I worried I’d jinxed it. Please don’t be Maureen Lipman, I prayed.
To my relief, it was not merely a soap star. To my delight, it was a Hollywood star: the one and only Charles Dance OBE.
I knew, from the trailer, that the surprise guest was teased throughout the show – and that the character Arthur would pretend to be him. The first act repeatedly mentioned Ian McKellen and Scarlett Johansson – Arthur even dressed up as the latter. McKellen was a possibility, especially with him being from the near-by Burnley (like me), butI knew that Johansson was an unlikely contender. That said, her Marvel co-star Tom Hiddleston has previously appeared in the show and is set to star in it again.
Then, in the second act, Charles Dance was brought up. Then again. And again. It was clear: our special guest was going to be none other than Game of Throne‘s Tywin Lannister and The Crown‘s Lord Mountbatten! Sure enough, Arthur pretended to be Dance – moments before the real Dance came on stage to a riotous applause.
The addition of Dance was a delight, but the role doesn’t really require a tremendous amount of talent from the celebrity playing themselves. The mystery guest is just the icing on the cake baked to perfection by the core trio.
Whilst Dennis Herdman and Thom Tuck were fantastic as fictional versions of themselves (simply called Dennis and Thom, respectively), supporting actor Mitesh Soni stole the show as Arthur (and others). It wasn’t until Mitesh joined the show (from the audience) that the show really got going. His characterisation of Arthur (and all of the people who Arthur pretended to be) was masterful.
Slapstick and crude British comedy are not usually my cup of tea (pardon the pun), but this show had me laughing the whole way through – and Soni was responsible for a great number of those laughs.
I’d go to see The Play That I Wrote again, if not only in hopes of seeing another Great British icon take to the stage. How incredible that I’ll get to tell my grandkids I saw the legendary Charles Dance on stage? Not that they’ll know who he is (was by that time), and I don’t actually plan on having children, but still – I saw Charles Dance, guys!
The Play What I Wrote plays the Lowry’s Lyric Theatre until 5th February before continuing its UK tour. Who, I wonder, will be the surprise special guest guest at your performance?
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