COMEDY / Vic and Bob's mad, mad world

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BOUGHT-IN seats bolted on to wooden floorboards give the Wolverhampton Civic Hall the festive formality of an impending school play. Tonight's entertainment, The Smell of Reeves & Mortimer, will certainly have a juvenile streak, but the commendable reluctance of its perpetrators to give themselves airs should not be allowed to obscure the seriousness of their achievements. It's no accident that this crowd feels less studenty than your average comedy assembly. Vic and Bob have built a uniquely democratic world of laughter, transcending social and economic divisions to appeal equally to all who live in thrall to showbusiness.

The Big Night Out was one of those comedy experiences that divide generations into those who get it and those who don't. The Smell of Reeves & Mortimer on TV confounded those who feared the magic might be lost in the slow-

motion leap sideways from Channel 4 to BBC2, and if this riotous second night of the duo's new tour is anything to go by, they are rediscovering the pleasure in live performance that made them such a joy in the first place.

As always, Vic and Bob are impeccably turned out - in beautiful blue and yellow suits from Sidney Charles, their Deptford High Street tailor. Vic's hair looks much classier now that he's stopped dying it, and Bob soon grows in confidence once stripped down to his tights. The show begins with a raucous but still plain

tive heavy rock song about a cliff-top tragedy involving a

former magician's assistant called Carol-Anne. 'Don't blame the clergyman,' Vic wails, 'for leaving muesli all around him.'

The comic potential of muesli might seem to be on the brink of exhaustion, but Reeves and Mortimer's interest in particular foods, like their obsession with the nuances of micro- celebrity, goes beyond routine laughter-getting. By yoking together the most bizarre physical and entertainment sensations - the touch of lard, the voice of Lovejoy - they lead us to a greater understanding of the insanities of everyday life. In this respect Vic and Bob are Yin to The Day Today's Yang.

Next to an instinctive grasp of popular culture, their most potent weapon is a delight in the English language. When Bob falls, his injuries include 'multi-directional sock roll and cancellation of favourite concert memory'. One minute Vic is giving us a disturbing vision of the apocalypse - 'Cats will turn into butter, and that, ladies and gentlemen, will be that.' The next Bob is presenting us with an old-school Northern club gag that Bernard Manning would kill for. 'I'm seeing a new lass,' he boasts. 'Works at Marks & Spencer's . . . won't let me try now't on.'

The rough and ready nature of a stage show suits some of their more extravagant recent conceits: Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye, the Punch and Judy agony uncles, are much more amusing when not blacked up. The farting Frenchmen Le Corbusier and Papin, Reeves and Mortimer's Renault Clio ad / Jacques Tati/ flatulence interface, are unique, but still not funny.

Things get a bit ragged towards the end, but that's part of the package. The welcome return of the Big Night Out's staple talent contest, Novelty Island, heralds an unsettling descent into complete gibbering madness. (For the record, the winner is Mr Wobbly Hand: 'currently in dispute with the Tango corporation over the theft of his act'). The encore is stranger still. As Vic belts out his chart-topping version of Tommy Roe's 'Dizzy', all members of the audience with hair longer than Michael Heseltine's run to the front and start dancing wildly. This is a moving personal thank you from the crowd to the entertainers. Vic's blankly expressive face hovers for a moment between pride and embarrassment, but opts - rightly - for the former.

'The Smell of Reeves & Mortimer': Liverpool Empire, 051-709 1555, tonight and Mon; Hammersmith Apollo, W6, 081-741 4861, Fri-Sun; then touring.

(Photograph omitted)