The Fast Show Live 2024 review

The Fast Show team are back for a new tour catchily titled An Evening With the Fast Show. That’s probably to set expectations. This isn’t a full production show with elaborate costume changes, makeup and lots of staging like previous arena tours. But it also might not be quite what you were expecting.

The show began with Charlie Higson arriving on stage to make the introductions. He appears to have settled into the character of a charming old headmaster in his nice grey suit. With the line of six chairs on the stage, and a big screen behind, it appeared that the evening was going to be a chat show panel format interspersed with some clips of the gang in their heyday, and you suspect most in the crowd would have been very happy with that. But then Paul Whitehouse came out at 13th Duke of Wybourne (with his reputation) and it’s clear there’s a whole lot more performance than the title suggests.

The two reminisced about their days at the University of East Anglia, Higson trying to control the conversation with Whitehouse the livewire. There’s the obligatory photos of them in punk band The Right Hand Lovers and the conversation took them through 1990s Jonathan Ross shows, meeting Vic and Bob and right up to the working on Harry Enfield’s BBC One show. It was the late great producer Geoffrey Perkins who first put together the presentation reel of Harry Enfield and Chums, which edited down the sketches to just the setup and punchline, which, in turn, inspired them to create a show that only had the good bits. Unable to find the producers they wanted, the BBC suggested they do it themselves and gave them money to go make a show. 1994 really was a very long time ago.

And as the anecotes continue, it was revealed that as well as needing to assemble actors, they also searched for writers, and two young guys from Ireland pitched them Ted and Ralph leading Paul to quip: ‘Graham and Arthur, or as we now know them… Arthur.’ Marvellous.

That led to a lovely performance of that first sketch where Ralph asks Ted if he likes Tina Turner, with the duo putting on jackets, wigs and hats as required from the side of the stage. And even after all this time, the performances were note perfect.

Each cast member was then brought out on stage to do their bit and chat, essentially in the order that they were recruited. Mark Williams first and then Arabella Weir, both of whom had started their careers as proper actors. And then Simon Day and John Thomson came out together as it was explained that, like Whitehouse and Higson, they pretty much came as a pair. Through the conversation, Thomson shared that he insisted that Caroline Aherne should join the cast, having previously worked with her and Steve Coogan in Manchester.

While these conversations might seem natural, providing more background information than you realise, they’ve clearly been rehearsed with plenty of set ups to allow a catchphrase to slip in… ‘Anyone fancy a pint?’

And after all that, there were proper sketches, greatest hits, all the characters you know and remember like Rowley Birkin QC, Professor Denzil Dexter, Tommy Cockles and Chris the Cockney, as well as some big ensemble moments like Chanel 9 and Ron Manager. There were even a few obscure ones thrown in for good measure.

The second half briefly returned to the panel format to talk a little about how the show found its feet better with the characters in the second season. But mainly it’s to pay tribute to Caroline Aherne with a selection of her best sketches and catchphrases. A live moment of poignancy didn’t quite land with the audience already hyped for laughs but it was nicely judged.

More sketches followed  featuring Swizz Tony, Billy Bleach, Colin Hunt, No Offence, and which all culminated with a visit to Jazz Club, merging into a Folk Club finale with Bob Fleming and friends.

Unlike some other live reunions, everyone still seemed invested and at the top of their game. Whitehouse is a chameleonic ball of energy, Thomson’s impressions are very impressive, and Simon Day’s characters really shine, especially as they’re given a little bit more space in the live format than they were in the TV show.

It was a really well-judged balance between reflection and laughs. At times, the whole thing had the feel of an Edinburgh revue with the minimal production and cast doing their own costume changes. The routines are exactly what many of the cast would have been doing on the comedy circuit before being catapulted to fame. With the strength of writing and performers, the comedy of The Fast Show doesn’t require elaborate sets, makeup or even location filming. All that’s needed is these talented performers and an audience. The Fast Show unplugged. Brilliant!

This show was reviewed at the the Pavilion, Glasgow on 20th March 2024.