Little Britain, Guildhall, Portsmouth

Stars of stage? Yeah but no but
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The Independent Culture

Among the accolades that testify to the phenomenon Little Britain has become are Bafta awards, British Comedy Awards, record DVD sales and interest in an American remake. The various manifestations range from a soon-to-air programme on the South Bank Show right the way through to the characters' slogans on underwear and soundalike ringtones. There's even a tribute act, Littler Britain.

This is not to ignore the interest the Prime Minister himself had in appearing on the programme, an overture wisely declined. Who needs Tony Blair when you have Anthony Stewart Head? Unfortunately, the ex-Buffy actor and former Gold Blend man is unavailable for this tour and Matt Lucas gamely takes his role.

The kind of success that gets people up and down the land parroting catchphrases means that the product has to some extent left its creators, as David Walliams has admitted: "It's like driving a car when the brakes have gone. You're still steering but you're not in control any more. The programme's not ours now."

On the other hand, in the same interview Walliams added: "I think it's wonderful that you've got 10-year-old boys running around school playgrounds calling out 'I'm a laydee' or 'I'm the only gay in the village.' We celebrate difference."

There was a lot of difference being celebrated here as the characters were briskly paraded over two manageable 45-minute halves in Little Britain's live version. This was a chance for the show's adoring fans to take control of that car, that bandwagon. They came dressed as characters, they held banners and proffered an unequivocal standing ovation. It was their chance to pay homage rather than to witness something new or particularly exciting, although the show will find its own footing. The sets are already looking quite swish, even if the computer-generated backdrops are a little dehumanising. When things went wrong - for example, Lucas's microphone often faltered, or cues were missed - proceedings took on an enjoyably spontaneous edge.

Links, as ever, were provided by the echoey, disdainful tones of Tom Baker. Meanwhile, the favourites such as Lucas's trio - the Asbo pin-up Vicky Pollard, the Fat Fighters supremo Marjorie Dawes and Dafydd, the only gay in the village - delivered. Dafydd's high-energy closing dance number was the right note on which to end.

Walliams is particularly effective in his surly roles: as Carol Beer, the travel agent who can usually offer holidaymakers only the disappointing advice that the "computer says no" in an estuary drawl; and his university secretary who thinks nothing of insulting students on the phone and within earshot - of Dave, a blind Brummie, she comments: "You'd pick him last for the darts team."

Other set pieces seemed cursory under the spotlight. Walliams' disgraced MP with his tale of how he fell on top of a man on Hampstead Heath promised more, and his shrieking Céline Dion impression on a spoof of Stars in their Eyes fared even worse. The projectile-vomiting ladies of the WI, who feel ill at the mention of anything they're uncomfortable with, such as Indian surnames, benefited from a technical fault with the vomit rather than the content. The grotesque former society beauty Bubbles De Vere is remarkable more for her resemblance to a Lucian Freud painting than for services to comedy.

Touring to 5 May (www.little britain.info).

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