The show is a celebration of the British double actMorecambe and Wise, and 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" (with a cameo by a mystery guest star) which formed the play's second half. It is named after the "play wot I wrote", the inept play supposedly written by Wise and featuring a celebrity guest which formed the finale to each Morecambe and Wise show. In the The Play What I Wrote, "Sean" writes a similarly inept play and is humoured by "Hamish" in the first half by having it performed. 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. Celebrities who appeared as the mystery guest during the show's London run included Ralph Fiennes (who appeared on opening night), Ewan McGregor, Cilla Black and Sue Johnston. Kevin Kline, Roger Moore (who suffered a heart attack onstage one night during the performance), Alan Alda, and Jeff Goldblum were among those who appeared in the Broadway run.
The play debuted at the Liverpool Playhouse Theatre in the summer of 2001 and moved on to its West End premiere at the Wyndham's Theatre, London, where it proved a prolonged success and earned positive reviews. It won Foley and McColl a joint Best Actor nomination at the 2002 Laurence Olivier Awards and, although they did not win, the production did achieve an Olivier Award for best comedy and for best actor in a supporting role for Jones.
In 2003, the play opened on Broadway where it was nominated for the Tony award. It failed to win and closed shortly afterwards. The script was only slightly rewritten for the benefit of American audiences who were unlikely to have been familiar with Morecambe and Wise.