Arts

The League of Gentlemen Live Again! in Belfast and Dublin

As The League of Gentlemen hit the road for their first live shows in 12 years, Scene caught up with the Gentlemen themselves – Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson – to discuss bringing their creepy cult TV comedy back to its roots in Ireland next month with The League of Gentlemen Live Again!

Edward (Reece Shearsmith), Tubbs (Steve Pemberton) and the rest of Royston Vasey's colourful characters are going on tour

COMEDY quartet The League of Gentlemen are set to return to the stage with their first tour in 12 years, The League of Gentlemen Live Again!

Following an acclaimed TV revival on BBC2 last year, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson are bringing the hilariously grotesque inhabitants of Royston Vasey back to their roots for a 31-date tour which visits Dublin's 3Arena on August 17 and SSE Arena in Belfast on August 18.

We quizzed the four comedians about what fans can look forward to.

What inspired you to revive the live show?

Steve Pemberton: It’s the perfect time. The live show is the most fun version of The League of Gentlemen that we do.

We’d been talking about doing something for a while. Having just made the BBC2 specials, this is a natural time to go back on the road while it’s on people’s minds. And after such a long time away, there is a real appetite for it.

We’re not forcing it on to people; wherever we go, we are constantly being asked about when we are bringing it back. So we thought, “Why not do it now?” We can’t wait.

Mark Gatiss: The lovely thing is we are doing it because we want to do it and not because we have to do it. Many reunions tend to be for the money and have a sense of desperation about them. But this isn’t like that.

We have talked for ages about doing something again because we never split up. We just stopped doing it. So it’s very special to be doing it with a happy heart rather than a sense of obligation.

How different is the stage version from the TV programme?

Jeremy Dyson: What I’ve always loved about the live shows is the rigour and discipline that they impose on the writing.

From the very beginning, we had a rule that only one prop or item of clothing was allowed to define a character. When we started in the mid-1990s with a residency at the Canal Cafe Theatre in London, it had a tiny dressing room, so everything had to go in a carrier bag. That meant you really had to think about the character when writing it.

Reece Shearsmith: The League of Gentlemen was never better than when it was live. The thing that surprised people was the theatricality of it. It was properly thrilling to be in the audience.

There was such horror and silence and awkwardness – which were then broken by laughter. We managed to manipulate the audience into feeling really uncomfortable and then breaking it with a big laugh. It was palpably brilliant when we had those moments.

So you've come full circle now?

Steve Pemberton: Yes. It’s not like the show was conceived as a TV programme. We won’t have to scratch our heads and think, “How are we going to do this live?”

These characters started when we walked out on stage saying things like, “Okey cokey, pig in a pokey.” The live show is simply going back to our roots.

How did you go about reviving the characters?

Reece Shearsmith: When we first started discussing what a League of Gentleman revival would look like, we came up with lots of clever-clever ideas. But in the end, we decided the best way to bring it back was as if it had never been away. It was just on again. That’s what it feels like.

Jeremy Dyson: We just started thinking, “What’s happened to Pauline and Tubbs and Edward in the past 12 years?” If enough time has passed, it’s exciting imagining what has become of them. At that moment, we realised how much richness there is in those characters. We didn’t have to dig very deep to start having those conversations.

How did you choose which characters to include in the live show?

Reece Shearsmith: It's been very hard because we have so many to choose from. We have done over 100. Of course, you want to do the ones people are desperate to see. But we also want to explore the smaller characters and do things which surprise people.

Mark Gatiss: This is the '12 Years Later' tour, so you’re not going to play the whole of the new album. There’s an extent to which we will give people exactly what they want. But we will also try and find new ways of doing it.

When Monty Python did their reunion a few years ago, they did the Cheese Shop and the Parrot sketches, which always get a big ovation. But they also added some new stuff and changed some things. That might be how we do it.

Steve Pemberton: You have to do Pauline. People love her. They love a woman with power, and Pauline has great power, as long as she has got a pen in her hand!

But there are so many other characters that have to be done: Tubbs and Edward, obviously, the Dentons, Les McQueen, Papa Lazarou and Hilary Briss. There are loads, and we don’t want to short-change people.

How much prep goes into the live show?

Mark Gatiss: A big thing for us has always been really rehearsing it well and creating a great show. People remember both our previous tours very fondly – and you can’t say that about everything you do. It was just a really good night out. We want to try and do that again.

What are you most looking forward to about touring again?

Reece Shearsmith: The fact that we will be forced to spend more time together –that’s a great thing. We really enjoy each other’s company. These days we don’t get to spend as much time together as we would like. But I never laugh more than when I’m with these guys. It’s great to be able to keep that going through our work.

Steve Pemberton: The extraordinary thing is we were all friends before any of this even existed. It’s all grown out of our friendship. The fact that we are able to keep working together, having known each other for 30 years is very moving. A lot of people don’t get to do that.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the show?

Reece Shearsmith: We hope that the live show will communicate that feeling of men in their 50s having the time of their lives jumping around on stage in silly costumes.

And can fans expect another reunion in 10 years?

Jeremy Dyson: We did this in the first instance to stop people asking when we were coming back!

So we have no immediate plans for another reunion. We just want to enjoy this tour.

:: The League of Gentlemen Live Again!, August 17, 3Arena, Dublin / August 18, SSE Arena, Belfast. Tickets on sale now via Leagueofgentlemen.live

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