David Graham, the creator of the ‘Eric’ shows at the New Vic, has been entertaining loyal audiences for over two decades with his sixties-themed takes on everything from Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, to Strictly Come Dancing. And now, he’s returning to the New Vic stage following our major refurbishment for Keep Calm and Carry On Eric (Monday 12 to Saturday 24 October) and Carry On at Christmas Eric (Monday 23 November to Saturday 5 December). We caught up with him to find out the secrets of this unexpectedly successful franchise…
On your own website, you refer to the ‘Eric phenomenon’ – so tell us, in your own words, what is the Eric phenomenon?
Thousands of people come and see the Eric shows twice a year. I don’t know of anything else like it – if you said to someone 20 years ago, we’re going to do 40 different shows all with the same cast, in the style of a sixties musical, they would think it was a ridiculous idea. That’s why I think it’s a phenomenon.
Did you mean for it to become such a cult success? Are you pleased it has?
I don’t mind the Eric shows being called ‘cult’, I’m very glad it has turned into a cult!
It’s funny because people in Newcastle-under-Lyme do still use the phrase ‘Uncle Eric’ all the time, and I haven’t been anyone’s uncle in the shows since about 2006, after my ‘nephew Dennis’ left to star in Billy Elliot in the West End. He did come back to celebrate our twentieth anniversary though. I wanted to get away from the ‘Uncle Eric’ thing because I felt like it made it sound like a kids show.
How do you continue to keep the ‘Eric’ shows fresh?
We experiment with different themes; now and then, we go back in time like with A Comedy of Eric’s – one of my favourites – which saw Eric running a pub and then Shakespeare turning up. In the past we’ve done our own takes on popular culture, like I’m Eric, Get Me Out of Here!, Eric in Benidorm and Strictly Eric which have gone down very well, and helped pull in a new audience.
Talking of pulling in new audiences, what do you do to make the shows enjoyable for people who have never been before?
I do try to approach every Eric show from the view of an audience who have never been. Or people who have come once and are now bringing their friends for the first time. It is even difficult for me to explain to new members of the company what it is. Most people will know the deal, but I don’t think it matters either way because there is always an explanation at the start about who everyone is and what stage Eric is at in his life.
What do you think people love so much about the Eric shows?
They are there for the humour and the music to start with. You don’t have to bring too many brain cells with you to enjoy it. The comedy is quite broad but mixed with some more clever jokes. In the second half of the show, it’s always been about the music. Increasingly afterwards in the bar people will tell me how much they enjoyed the story, so they clearly come for a good yarn as well.
What have the challenges been?
In more recent times we have ventured a bit more out of the sixties, with songs from the seventies and eighties, and when we first did that people were really quite upset, but it’s become more accepted now the audience has grown. It’s not just people coming for the nostalgia. Although you do find those sixties songs travel through the generations and most ages know them.
Keep Calm and Carry On Eric takes to the stage at the New Vic from Monday 12 to Saturday 24 October 2020. Carry On at Christmas Eric runs from Monday 23 November to Saturday 5 December 2020. Tickets are on sale now, and can be booked online or by calling the Box Office on 01782 717962.