A FIRST time theatre director was stunned when his production received the blessing of the play’s Olivier award-winning scriptwriter.

Stockton Heath resident Chris McClelland was putting together his take on Tim Whitnall’s play, Morecambe, when he received the message of encouragement in the post.

The theatre hit, a biographical one-man show about the life of legendary comedian Eric Morecambe, was chosen by Chris for his directorial debut with Stockton Heath Methodist Dramatic Society.

The production was first staged in the village last month and it was so well received that he was asked to bring it back for the opening night of Stockton Heath Festival.

The 60-year-old said: “This doesn’t happen very often, but we had a message and a card from the writer of the play when we were doing the first night of the performance. We were really pleased. I’ve never known it to happen before with amateur productions.”

Earning an Olivier award and several five-star reviews during its original run, the play captured Chris’s interest due to fond childhood memories of watching Morecambe and Wise on TV.

He added: “As soon as I saw that the title had become available I was intrigued straight away. We got hold of the script and it’s just brilliant. It’s a well told story and a well written play. I’m not surprised it won awards.”

But there were some challenges to overcome when putting the production together.

Chris said: “The main problem is finding someone who is brave enough to take on that role, given people’s familiarity with Eric Morecambe. That one man plays around 27 different characters in the show, so you have to give the actor the support to develop that role. It’s managing those nuances really.”

That is why Chris was delighted when actor David Matthews went for the audition and completely fit the bill. He fills the shoes of Eric Morecambe in the play’s only role.

Chris added: “He’s an expert. To learn 50 plus pages and pull that off each night is an achievement. If you come along to the festival night you’ll see a really stand-out performance.”

And as if the endorsement from the play’s writer and the production’s director was not enough, David recently received the blessing of Eric Morecambe’s son Gary.

Chris said: “They were very supportive and encouraging. I think they’re really excited to see a group like ours take on this challenging play which turns out to be a great bit of entertainment.”

  • Morecambe will be performed on Thursday, June 29, at Stockton Heath Methodist Church hall in Walton Road. Visit stocktonheathfestival.co.uk