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I’ve already written about Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer here, but this is a little different. After 25 years of a highly-influential career, the two British madmen are touring the country – for what appears to be one last time. As a fan of their work for almost as long as their inception, it was quite something to see a performance. Far older than the sprightly, young fellows we once knew, I couldn’t help some trepidation. Indeed, much of their oeuvre relies on the physical; the long and demented slapstick synonymous with their act. That said, Reeves and Mortimer will always be amusing and entertaining in their dynamic. Although comedy comes naturally to them, could they still confidently twat each other with frying pans?
The show was stylised as a kind of retrospective, if not overtly. Subtitled “The Poignant Moments”, they performed an appropriately varied card. In truth, knowing what to expect was somewhat difficult. As they sailed effortlessly through the vast seas of their back catalogue, fan service ruled the roost. An act like Reeves and Mortimer could easily rely on their stockpile of winning catchphrases. What we ended up with turned out to be a successful mixture, giving us beloved obscurities in equal measure. An improvised edge permeated proceedings too. It was a true joy to see this aspect of their work translated to the stage, be it through incessant corpsing or off-the-cuff physical twitches. In many ways, their humour is purely for themselves. It only helps their appeal when they so clearly enjoy each other’s company.
The tone was set pretty quickly. Opening with an extremely niche ditty (from an even more niche 1992 show), I knew i’d be getting more than their most revered sketches. It also seemed obvious from the outset that age had indeed taken some toll. Mortimer in particular appeared to be having some troubles keeping up, but only when it came to the musical numbers. By the time they got bantering, all those concerns ebbed away. With a chemistry impossible to manufacture or replicate, Reeves and Mortimer instantly took control. Much of the first half revolved around Vic Reeves Big Night Out, their debut television series. Seeing such a weathered Reeves comfortably “in-character” as his 20-something self was an impressive transition. The duo have evolved more than they’re given credit for, but seemed right back at home when returning triumphantly to Novelty Island.
The second half kicked off in extremely high gear with a medley of ballads from Mulligan & O’Hare, their on-point parody of Foster & Allen. As two of their most enduring and popular characters, I was steamrolled with nostalgia for the entire thing. Material from The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer made up the lion’s share post-interval, sprinkled with some newer stuff (such as the magnificent Dr. Shakamoto). It was in this half when things hit a peak. Masterfully dusting off old skits, and placing them confidently next to fresher ideas, proved their integrity in strides. It showed, in no uncertain terms, the purity of their connection and output. Reeves and Mortimer have never compromised, which brings an amazing coherence to their 25 years of honed nonsense.
Walking into Nottingham’s Theatre Royal, I was an unashamed mega-fan. Upon walking out I had only gained a deeper admiration. I felt validated in choosing them as my favourite comedians. They drew a diverse crowd too, a testament to their universal appeal (in Britain at least). It’s something unlikely to make a successful trip overseas, but Reeves and Mortimer sum up everything that’s great about being British. Putting aside the Nigel Farage, bulldog-breed pillars that definitely taint us, there’s a lot of warm-hearted colour to our pale pallor. Nobody has cracked the daft like the British, something Reeves & Mortimer are sure to prove at every touring step. Everyone in the room knew 25 year old routines at the mildest prompting, with no hesitation in the crowd’s howling of “What’s on the end of the stick, Vic?”.
All of their shows, save Catterick, received a fair airing. It could be said that such performances are essentially easy money for the pair, considering their unfaltering talent. Fortunately, i’m not sure that’s completely true of this tour. The chaotic proceedings have a true depth of thought and consideration behind them. They’ve clearly worked hard to represent themselves fully, while also making sure no fan leaves neglected. If this really is to be one of their final complete public runs, it’s a very fine way to leave audiences. Satisfied by the weight of their set-list, while left wanting ever more, Reeves and Mortimer surely have a place in the most hallowed halls of British comedy. I can only hope that their legacy won’t be a limited one, doomed to fade against the blasting sands of time. We just shouldn’t let it lie.