‘Legends!’ is the swaggering – albeit mock-boastful – title of Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse’s first live touring show as a double-act – and surveying the four decades of the pair’s intertwined (if not always hand in glove) comedy careers that epithet looks fully earned.
Between them they’ve spawned memorable characters and catch-phrases by the coach-load, many of which, during the zenith of their TV success, defined the mood of the moment. No discussion of the Thatcher years was complete without a glance at Enfield’s cash-flashing cockney show-off Loadsamoney.
The cheesy-creepy combo of un-hip Radio Fab DJs Mike Smash and Dave Nice - Smashie and Nicey – lanced with such deadly accuracy Radio 1’s preening, preposterous dinosaurs, they indirectly helped to achieve a mass extinction.
Affection levels are high, then, as these long-standing pals bring their golden oldies back to life, augmented by a roster of recent caricatures from their accomplished Harry and Paul BBC sketch show.
Over the next few hours, they remain that way but there’s no disguising the fact that the belly-laughs are few and far between and besides the loadsalucre lure of the touring circuit, and souvenir value of doing this, the creative rationale is surprisingly hard to discern.
At bare minimum, without the luxury of an editing suite, and shackled to a televisual format of hit-and-run vignettes (meaning there are probably more costume changes here than in Les Mis), the evening is a heroic trial of middle-aged stamina.
Now in their mid-fifties, the pair arrive on mobility-scooters in scabrous character as the “Old Gits”, sneering at each other’s git-ification: “Look how 25 years have ravaged you!” snarls Enfield. So far so fun, though a segue into a montage of the dead, led by a picture of the late Rik Mayall, feels wrong.
Inevitably, without the wider entourage of the duo’s comedy chums - Kathy Burke, say, or Charlie Higson - the occasion looks barer than it should at times.
Impressive as it is to see Whitehouse attempting one half of The Fast Show’s pervy tailors “Suit You” as a solo turn, with blokes in the stalls as the foil, it can’t measure up to hallowed small-screen memory.
Catherine Shepherd has supporting token-women roles that induce uneasy mirth: the vacuous spendthrift snapping up rip-off tour merchandise from Enfield’s retro-peddling charlatan (“I saw you coming”) and the butt of a mock lecture on the female brain (a throwback to a bygone chauvinism which, judging by the uglier titters, isn’t all that bygone).
The more incorrect material certainly gets a reaction but risks looking as reactionary as the attitudes it mocks. The pair have always dealt in broad, unflattering brush strokes, though, and even if the paint is still dripping off the script, the evening abounds with a sense of their rare talent and infectious rapport, most evident in the crises moments when the audience participation goes awry and the chat goes off-piste.
You want to see them in action? This is your chance.Will we be talking for years to come about the updates to the old favourites? I doubt it.
Kevin the Teenager, that dread archetype of pimply truculence, is now a sexting idiot, Greek kebab-shop owner Stavros (still mangling the “Quees English”) has to be bailed out by his German customer, Loadsamoney flaunts an iPhone so deluxe it doesn’t exist yet and Operation Yewtree has caught up with Smashie.
Predictable stuff really, a photocopy of a photocopy of genius. But do these great mates still represent a comedy-tastic force for good, a welcome silliness in an age of sour disdain and disapproval.
On balance, I should coco.
Tour continues to Dec 2. Info: Harryandpaul.com