Liam Rudden: The League of Gentlemen are back and brilliant

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THE couple sitting behind us at The Playhouse the other night were elderly French Canadians from Toronto. We got chatting when they remarked on my baseball cap, branded with their local team, the Blue Jays (it’s not been a good year for them so far, but that’s another column).

They were in town for three days and told me they wanted to see at least one play while they were here, so they had bought tickets for The League of Gentlemen - the only thing on during the theatrical dearth that afflicts the Capital post Fringe.

“Ah, you know it’s not a play,” I cautioned, “but a sketch show, and that as the League have been around for just over 20 years, tonight was going to include some ‘greatest hits’ moments.”

Skits, that might bemuse them. They nodded, looking none the wiser. They had never heard of The League of Gentlemen and knew nothing of the TV series - although they thought they recognised them from other things. They certainly had no knowledge of characters such as Tubbs, or Pauline, or Herr Lipp.

To be honest, at that point I thought the whole show might bemuse them.

“How would I describe the Gents,” they asked. How indeed?

Looking for a social reference they might understand, Monty Python seemed as good as any. Monty Python only darker. Much darker. So much darker.

This pleased them. They liked Monty Python.

And so the curtain rose on Legs Akimbo issue-based theatre company aka Reece Shearsmith, Mark Gatiss and Steve Pemberton, aka The League of Gentlemen.

Attired in dinner suits throughout the first act, a nod to their early days on the Fringe, where they were discovered in 1997 when they won the Best Comedy Show Award (radio, TV and a dalliance with the big screen would follow), the trio romped through 40 minutes of sketches, including the old favourites that were received with roars of approval.

The Canadians laughed throughout.

The second act, as the characters of Royston Vasey were brilliantly brought to life, no doubt proved slightly more puzzling for them, but still they laughed.

In turns dark, crude, deeply moving, politically incorrect, brutally politically incorrect, yet always funny, so, so funny, The League of Gentlemen have not lost their ability to amuse, shock and rail against the mores of polite society.

A nicely barbed line to the effect that while the right-to-be-offended-brigade debate which toilet can be used by who, society and the world as we know it is disintegrating around us.

It was well received, as were the trio as they took their bow to a rapturous standing ovation.

As for our Canadian friends, well, they loved them. The comedy of Dyson (the off-stage member of the quartet), Gatiss, Pemberton and Shearsmith is indeed international, even if the couple didn’t get all the in-jokes, but then they wouldn’t, would they?