Little Britain Live

Note: This review is from 2005

Review by Steve Bennett

What a night to see Little Britain Live. While they were on stage entertaining several thousand people in Brighton, in London the British Comedy Awards were hailing them as the funniest, and best-written, TV show around.

The deafening cheer of pride, support and excitement that erupted when their finale was interrupted for the award was a forceful demonstration of the sheer power and size of their fan base.

From this you would have no idea that their third series was deemed a disappointment by the critics, or that a third of their audience turned off after the first episode. But that still leaves six and a half million people, which is quite some constituency.

Though these third series wobbles might be signs of cracks appearing, when the Little Britain tour launched a month ago, Matt Lucas and David Walliams seemed unstoppable. Riding high on a tide of expectation, recognition and hype about their forthcoming third season, most reviewers raved about the opening night, despite its technical hitches. But a month in, does the live show, which will just have finished its London run this time next year, still have the vigour for that marathon tour?

In many ways it doesn’t matter; hundreds of thousands of tickets have long sold out, and fans know exactly what to expect: an adult (but hardly mature) pantomime of catchphrases, exaggerated gross-out comedy and bawdy high jinks.

Should you be in any doubt about this, the duo set out their stall right from the get-go, as the exploited carer Lou shuffles onto the stage, pushing an empty wheelchair. ‘Have you seen my friend Andy?’ he asks, and the audience obiediently chime: ‘He’s behind you’ before he even makes his entrance… on a jetpack. (Well, actually on very obvious wires, but we all suspend disbelief).

Fun though this is, you can’t quite escape the feeling that Little Britain has become more than a little mechanical. Many characters come on, say what they’ve got to say, and move on. In the most two-dimensional cases this is precisely what they do – there’s not a huge scope for variety in ‘computer says no’, ‘look into my eyes’, or the women who urinate/vomit uncontrollably.

Still, even these characters elicit huge cheers of recognition – the nine-year-old a couple of seats from me was literally jumping up and down with glee at every familiar face. The nine-year-old within me was a little less moved. Familiarity breeds… well not exactly contempt, but maybe a certain weariness with the formula.

Yet the best creations transcend their catchphrases. Vicky Pollard is a whole defiant, selfish, aimless generation in pink towelling; and Dafydd isn’t just the ‘only gay in the village’ (unlikely, here in Brighton), but an entire persecution complex.

Their two finest characters have the scripts to match. Vicky giving a talk to her old school gives free reign to Lucas – the more versatile of the two - to demonstrate his brilliant verbal gymnastics, rattling through the nonsensical, unpunctuated denials with impressive dexterity. Dafydd brings the whole show to a camp climax in his sexuality-affirming disco number, Walliams donning a skimpy, kinky copper outfit to join him.

Tellingly, though, it’s some of the lesser characters who have the best material, possibly because it comes as a surprise. Vicky’s teacher – never previously fleshed out – becomes the stereotypical relaxed, liberal ‘call me Dave’ kind of educator; while creepily oversexed children’s entertainer Des ‘Wikky Woo’ Kaye combines his double entendres, with the frission of unpredictability you get from bringing audience victims on stage. Acid-tongued Fat Fighter Marjorie Dawes provides a similar spark of spontaneity.

Other sketches that demonstrate a little invention included little Dennis Waterman, in which the visual gags involving his supposed miniscule statue recreated with a stupid, low-budget glee. Elsewhere, Walliams’ Sebastian flirts with Lucas’s Prime Minister (‘Anthony Head proving too expensive, Tom Baker’s mellifluous narration tells us), ending the sketch naked; a momentarily coherent Anne enters Stars In Your Eyes as Whitney Houston, and the rubbish transvestites chat up a rough sailor. These all gets the job done, even if it is with utilitarian efficiency.

A mix, then, of some fine, rollickingly good moments – and other sketches that do lillte more than just trot out the familiar punchlines. The most successful brand in comedy giving the people exactly what they want; you don’t get as rich as this undeniably talented twosome have become by doing anything else.

Steve Bennett

Brighton Conference Centre

December 15, 2005

Review date: 15 Dec 2005
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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