League of Gentlemen Live Again!
Fri 7 Sep, Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff
Considering they haven’t appeared onstage as the League of Gentlemen since 2005, the spectacle of Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith appearing on one stage together at all is reason enough to come and see the League of Gentlemen Live Again! on its current extensive tour around Britain. Since they initially joined forces over 20 years ago, each member’s career has exploded; Gatiss as one of the creative forces behind Sherlock and Doctor Who, Pemberton in series like Benidorm and Happy Valley, and Shearsmith alongside Pemberton in their creations Psychoville and Inside No. 9, whilst non-performing member Jeremy Dyson has helmed such successes as Ghost Stories from earlier this year.
The show itself is a night of two very distinct parts. The first is heralded by a bombastic performance from the tragically dire educational theatre company Legs Akimbo, before the trio launch into a rapid-fire attack of some of their most famous sketches featuring favourite characters from the nightmarish creation of Royston Vasey, a down-at-heels town in the north west; Last of the Summer Wine meets The Wicker Man.
They remain in tuxedo through the first half, with only the occasional costume or prop piece to accompany what is otherwise a minimalist stage design. This may seem at odds with the grotesque and visceral characters and backdrops of their pitch-black TV series, but it truly is a showcase for the masterful performance skills of each. The sheer volume of their repertoire of voices and mannerisms, and their ability to set a rich scene with the barest of sets, shows how they managed to succeed in stage and radio and then breakthrough into mainstream TV audiences in the first place.
Like the series though, the sketches do tend to be hit and miss, and there are segments which rely more on the audience shouting an old catchphrase than being particularly inventive or funny. Even with 3 such great performers on stage, after a while the minimalist approach and the lack of new material does make you look forward to the interval, hoping for something more in the second act.
Luckily once the second act arrives, the audience can hardly be left disappointed. With a quick projection recapping what happened at the end of the 2017 Christmas specials, we are finally introduced to star characters Edward and Tubbs, the proud local shopowners. With a musical sequence that has hints of a Frozen parody, the show gratefully carries on the story from the cliffhanger audiences were left with last year. It’s in this act too that the stage design is really something to behold, with old sets such as Tubbs and Edward’s shop being wheeled onto stage in life-size form.
Here, we also find out what happened to other characters after the Christmas special ended, including the odious and supposedly recently-deceased job centre worker Pauline. If there doesn’t end up being another TV special to conclude what happened last Christmas, then this show will end up being an Easter egg in the League of Gentlemen’s timeline that many fans will regret missing out on seeing.
Whilst it isn’t perfect and lacking in parts, who knows when the stars will next align to allow them to schedule another show? It’s certainly worth overlooking the weaker parts here for a chance to see Gatiss, Pemberton and Shearsmith enjoying performing together in their prime.
words Stephen Springate