REVIEW: An Evening With The Fast Show, Grand Opera House, York, March 19 ***

Fast talking: An Evening With The Fast Show at the Grand Opera House, York

CONVENTION has it that audiences complain when bands leave out big hits but equally do so when comedians repeat gags from a previous tour show.

Where does that leave a sketch show, transplanted from screen to stage, in this case for a 30th anniversary tour, 22 years after The Fast Show played York Barbican on their debut UK tour?

Much to the sold-out audience’s delight, a multitude of beloved characters strut rather than fret their allotted time upon the stage on Tuesday, some with little more than a catchphrase, others given new material to complement those phrases. Phrases gathered on T-shirts selling like hot cakes at the foyer bar merch stall. Scorchio.

Such a show is not without precedence. Monty Python and The Secret Policeman’s Ball reprised greatest bits from TV shows on stage, the Four Yorkshireman sketch a recurring favourite (first performed by co-writers Tim Brooke-Taylor, John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Marty Feldman on At Last The 1948 Show in 1967).

Now, six of the originals have gathered for The Fast Show’s nights of nostalgia: writing partners Charlie Higson and Paul Whitehouse, who first performed together in a punk band in smudged eyeliner days at the University of East Anglia; actors Mark Williams and Simon Day, actress Arabella Weir and, last to join the party, John Thomson, the man of many voices.

Higson and Whitehouse take on the role of narrators and chat-show hosts, opening the show with recollections of how The Fast Show came into being, from writing for Harry Enfield to being entrusted with their own editorial control by the BBC.  

Seats are in place, as are clothes rails to facilitate quick changes of character/caricature, each one greeted with a cheer of recognition, especially so for Ralph and Ted, lord of the manor and his taciturn but profound Irish groundsman.

Williams is the first to join them in the guise of “Today I’ll be mostly” Jesse, the country bumpkin. They chat, affably, with room for teasing and affectionate digs at Steve Coogan, recalling the old days as if at a school reunion.

The rhythm is established immediately: fast for The Fast Show sketches and monologues, slower for the comfy banter when seated.

Ever charming, avuncular too, Higson has to battle against misbehaving facial fuzz, from flyaway moustaches to non-stick sideburns; Whitehouse is a bundle of unruly energy, prone to interject and seek the spotlight.

Day plays the puckish mischief maker, full of surprises; Weir, outnumbered five to one, is the most reflective; Thomson, a constant delight with all manner of impressions.

Characters and catchphrases galore come and go, another one always just around the corner, like a taster menu’s next nibble. Day’s Tommy Cockles goes down particularly well, as do Whitehouse’s drunken Rowley Birkin QC and Thomson’s Jazz Club host Louis Balfour, now smoking a vape to bring him up to date.

Nice! Especially, his story of giving band members the names of London tube stations. Take a bow Tooting Bec on trumpet.

But does a compendium of sketches add up to a satisfying full picture, especially when bolstered by memories of all their yesterdays, topped off with a video clip tribute to the late seventh team member, Caroline Aherne, reminding all of her special comedy chops?

In truth, for all the surge of joy at the “band getting back together”, Tuesday left your reviewer wanting more of some, less of the others, as sketches always do.