"A beautifully executed one-man show"
by remotegoat reviewer for remotegoat on 23/08/14

The lights come up and an elderly man hobbles on to the stage. He hands his walking stick over to an audience member in the front row, before greeting the room with a humble introduction. He claims not to have achieved any triumphs in life. He is, in his own words, "just a bloke that lives next door". And so begins the story of Ernie Hort.

Unless you knew him, were involved in the production or saw it, you probably have no idea who Ernie Hort is. He was, by his own admission, an ordinary man who served for his country during World War 2, just one of the thousands and thousands of men who had a story to tell but never got around to it. That was until an unfinished autobiography was discovered after his death by his grandson (and the centrepiece of this entire production) James Craze.

It goes without saying that art is at it's best when it comes from the heart, drawn from somewhere personal and intimate, and that's exactly what "Ernie" is. Compared to other wartime stories we've heard, Ernie's is definitely tame, but this isn't a play about war or soldiers; this is a play celebrating life. What James Craze has attempted to do with this one-man show is immortalise someone who clearly meant a lot to him. And he does it with utmost brilliance.

What 'Ernie' lacks in narrative strength, it makes up for in emotional depth and a stunning performance. Craze flits effortlessly through over thirty characters, displaying a remarkable expertise of physical theatre, comic timing and natural charm. Simple outfit manipulations (the turning of a hat, the manner in which a pair of glasses are worn) are enough to distinguish between characters, and at no point does it get confusing. It's the end-product of something that has been constructed with the utmost care and attention.

And at the centre of it all is Ernie Hort himself, seen as a young schoolboy all the way up to old age. Craze plays him with great humility, portraying him as a man who was grateful for what life dealt him. It's hard not to warm to him, and that is once again largely down to Craze's performance. I do wish that we could see another side of Ernie, however, something a little greyer and rounded. He is almost too grateful,even in the face of war and the post-war uncertainties he faced, but this could indeed just be how the book shows it.

It's no surprise that this production has already had the privilege of getting performed in some other well-known spaces, and I can only hope that it gets even more exposure. In a day and age where all the focus seems to be on either social commentaries or the absurd, it's refreshing to watch something that is simply just a celebration. Free of politics. Free of irony and parody.

This is made clearest at the end, when there is no longer any character on the stage. All the masks have been taken off, leaving James Craze - actor and grandson - to say goodbye. As the lights go down, we are left with the photograph of a smiling Ernie Hort. A beautiful tribute to a good man.

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