Thirty years on from when they met as students, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders are "still alive". But they are calling it a day as far as French and Saunders goes. Renouncing grotesque prosthetics, brilliant movie spoofs and celebrity send-ups, the country's best-loved female comedy double-act is packing up its manic impressions, bitchy bickering, ridiculous garb and daft musical pastiches for good.
The competitive edge we like to imagine between them has inspired some great gags and sketches. "Who's the most popular, who'll be the queen, whose name will live on?" Saunders waxes lyrical about her comedy goddess status on gay blogs but when French brings on a gigantic Vicar of Dibley puppet and brings Saunders to her knees in abject grovelling, it's clear each is in a league of her own. But the inclusion of the original Ab Fab sketch, in which French plays Saffy, was a reminder of that cult show's modest beginnings.
There are a few "white room" scenes, a glimpse of French's Silence of the Lambs mask, an encounter with the "Jackie and Joan Collins" duo, a moan about Madonna never having shown any interest in them, a visit from the odd inhabitants of Prickly Pear Farm and a guest appearance by those two old lady extras from EastEnders. Motorised shopping buggies at the ready, they barge into a recording of Strictly Come Dancing. Under a mirror ball, French's turn round the floor with a dummy Anton du Beke and Saunders's tango contortions are worth the ticket price alone.
"Sex Talk" was the first sketch they ever wrote and if any two middle-aged women can recapture two 15-year-olds – with French as the show-off displaying her shaky knowledge of sex – French and Saunders can. It's the same with the poignant sketch of the two little rich girls left at boarding school over Christmas. Catherine Zeta-Spartacus-Douglas-Jones makes a glorious appearance in a filmed message from the house she shares with "grandad" while French's chocoholic tendencies take her into the stalls. Her encounters with the audience are cut in with onscreen shots of nits in someone's hair, a mouse in someone else's cleavage, and a cobweb apparently up a poor punter's skirt. And finally those two fat pervy men make their last ever appearance, leaving us "begging for it". That is what I call a career.
Touring to 7 May (0870 532 1321). All six series of 'French and Saunders' will be released on in a six-box DVD set on 10 MarchReuse content