Little Britain Live, Guildhall, Portsmouth

Grotesque and gaudy comedy kings take show on the road
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The Independent Culture

Among the accolades that equate Little Britain becoming a phenomenon are Bafta awards, British Comedy Awards, poll-topping showings, record DVD sales, interest in an American remake, but also plaudits ranging from a soon-to-air programme on The South Bank Show right the way through to their characters' slogans on underwear and soundalike ringtones.

There's even a tribute act: Littler Britain. This is of course not to mention the interest the Prime Minister had in appearing on the programme, an overture wisely declined. Who needs Tony Blair when you have Anthony Stewart Head? But the ex-Buffy actor and former Gold Blend man is unavailable for this tour and Matt Lucas gamely takes his role.

Of course the kind of success that has comedy ringtones as its result and gets people in playgrounds and workplaces parroting catchphrases means that the product has left its creators, as David Walliams has freely admitted. "It's like driving a car when the brakes have gone. You're still steering but you're not in control anymore. The programme's not ours now." On the other hand, in the same interview Walliams, said: "I think its 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 last night as the show's characters were paraded over two manageable 45-minute halves. This was a chance for the show's fans to take control of that car Walliams spoke of. 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 it is something that will inevitably find a surer footing as it carries on.

The sets already operate in a swish manner even if the computer-generated backdrops are a little dehumanising. But when things went wrong the proceedings were leant an enjoyably spontaneous edge.

Links, as ever, were provided by Tom Baker. Meanwhile firm favourites such as Lucas's trio: the ASBO pin-up Vick Pollard, self-styled fat-fighting supremo Marjorie Dawes and Dafydd, the only gay in the village, all delivered. Dafydd's high-energy closing dance routine was the right note to end on.

Walliams is particularly effective in his surly roles, such as his university secretary who thinks nothing of insulting students on the phone and within earshot (of Dave, a blind Brummie, she says: "You'd pick him last for the darts team").

Other set-pieces seem to be shown up as cursory. Walliams' disgraced MP shuffled on with his unlikely story of how he fell on top of a man on Hampstead Heath. There was a nice punchline about "sap" but it promised more. The infamous projectile-vomiting ladies of the Women's Institute, who feel ill at the mention of anything they are uncomfortable with such as Indian surnames, were elevated by a technical fault with the vomit rather than the sketch. Meanwhile grotesque, former society beauty Bubbles De Vere is remarkable more for her resemblance to a Lucian Freud painting than services to comedy.

Often grotesque, obvious and gaudy, it has all the promise of being this winter's most successful pantomime.

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