Nic Wright

Review: Harry and Paul – Legends! Newcastle City Hall

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Imagine you have a dog.

You love that dog very much; he’s fun, he’s affectionate, he does clever tricks. Now imagine that dog gets old, and goes off to doggy heaven. Sad, isn’t it? But, it was his time. You remember him fondly; you look at pictures of him, maybe videos even, reminisce about the day he pulled that man’s pants down in the park. Good times.

As much as you loved and miss that dog, and enjoy his memory, you wouldn’t want someone to dig up his crumbling remains and have him do his old tricks like some sort of grotesque puppet, would you?

That deeply unpleasant analogy is the about as close as you can get to summing up Harry and Paul: Legends!

The first ever live tour for long-time comedy collaborators Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse, the show features characters from the pair’s 25 year career, from Saturday Live and Harry Enfield and Chums through to Harry and Paul, and even The Fast Show make appearances in this big-budget best of.

“Look how 25 years has ravaged you!” Enfield’s Old Git sneers at Whitehouse in the opening sketch. Sadly appropriate, as while their Loadsamoney and Smashie and Nicey characters bottled the zeitgeist of their time, attempts to update them feel tacky and thin.

Modern references are crow-barred in, but fail to elevate what was at its best broad and accessible humour, and the high production can’t plaster over the cracks in the script, and obvious lack of preparedness.

There’s no question that the pair’s performance skills, particularly their mimicry and knack for accents, is still dead on, but the characters and material have gone soft on them, leaving little to enjoy amongst the silly twangs and hollow stereotypes.

Their new attempts at social satire – a public information presentation on why women can’t be comedians, and two old men debating whether various public figures are queer – might look perfectly ironic on paper, but their execution feels uneasy, and not quite discernible enough from cheap, old-fashioned shots to land.

A VT of Kevin the Teenager moaning awkwardly in a wheelchair having “wanked himself” disabled, and a claim that a jealous Whitehouse actually murdered Rik Mayall prove the peak of the show’s generally uncomfortable tone.

It was particularly telling that the biggest laughs came from the pair corpsing or flubbing their lines and not the gags; and even the hiccups happened too frequently to remain charming or entertaining.

Their barbs at each other’s careers and personal lives – whether it be advertising campaigns or ex-wives – come off as self-indulgent rather than inclusive and in-jokey.

Though affection clearly remains for the duo’s creations, their resurrection does nothing for them, and the newer characters demonstrate the diminishing returns of the pair’s collaboration.

If you’re not a Harry and Paul fan, there’s nothing for you here. If you are a Harry and Paul fan, it’s probably best to keep basking in your small screen nostalgia; no one wants to see their dead dog doing tricks.

Date of live review: Wednesday 4 November 2015