Touring – reviewed at SEC Glasgow
Remember Royston Vasey? The endearingly twisted TV saga with its perverse, morbid inhabitants spoke to a Britain that secretly enjoys hopeless decay, imagining homely shopkeepers as mass-murderers and uncles as mad buffoons. After years of individual successes Mark Gatiss, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton (sometimes with the writer Jeremy Dyson) are back: every character is greeted by whoops of joyful recognition.
The first half sees them in black tie with minimal props, running through beloved jokes: the dreadful card game Go Johnny Go Go Go Go, the contemptuous dating agency, the mad audition, and a creepy torchlit moment of Gatiss as Mick McNamara our guide to the “nexus of leylines” which make the town a gate to hell. Or at least to the poisons shelf in a late-night Aldi. In the second half there are costumes and projections, and a bracing a sequel to the Great Wife Mine disaster from the Christmas special.
Despite the ghoulish silliness, they are disciplined: nothing goes on too long, nothing is banal (it makes you wince to think of their imitators, the dismal Little Britain). Gatiss plays the more mellow innocent characters – poignant as the sad bingo caller and washed-out rocker Les – Shearsmith is more often loud and dangerous, especially as the terrifying Papa Lazarou in a Papal mitre making us all his wives. Pemberton specialises in the extravagantly ghastly (do not get front row seats for fear of Herr Lipp, or risk yourself on a row’s end when Pauline storms through).
The spoofiness is occasionally cut with acid satire: Shearsmith’s Ollie furiously asks why his “issue-led children’s theatre” wins no awards. I loved the Royal Court moment – “Why are you putting bricks on my baby? Down with Thatcher’s poll tax”, and the 10-second War Horse moment. The Rev. Bernice roars contempt on #MeToo and self-definition, signing off with “Join me next week when we decide who’s allowed to go into which toilet while western society burns down all around us”.
It is deadpan and dirty and exhilarating, the surreal lunacies fed by sharp, exasperated intelligence. When the Dentons finally inflict every – I do mean every – bodily fluid on poor Benjamin , they have to do it with Auntie Val playing Nellie Dean on the harmonium. I whooped with the rest.