Comedy: The sad night the Shooting Stars flopped to earth

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VIC AND BOB v Paul Whitehouse and friends; a quiz show v a sketch show; the surrealists v the catchphrasers. It wasn't even a contest.

The Shooting Stars opened proceedings with a bethroned Ulrika, flashing lights on her nipples, descending from the heavens. She dismounted and sang "I am a Cider Drinker" (odd, when the only way I could get a ticket to the show was via its sponsor, Carlsberg Ice Beer).Ulrika, recently described by a fawning interviewer as having "magnificent A-levels", is less than qualified to attempt a West Country accent. After such an uncertain beginning, things deteriorated.

Vic Reeves - looks a little like Eric Morecambe, thinks increasingly like Benny Hill - leered and leched his way around the stage, measuring his manhood against a Barbie doll and pulling off some funny business with one of the Nolan sister's underpants. Bob Mortimer was so subdued that he might as well have been, and indeed probably was, listening to a commentary of his beloved Middlesbrough against Liverpool through an ear-piece. Occasionally he would come out of his reverie to indulge in some prop-bashing with Vic. But such antics only reminded one that Rik'n'Ade had done them before, and better. You have to be brave to perform your own quiz show on stage. Even confident men like Roy Walker and Henry Kelly have refrained from taking Catchphrase and Going For Gold on the road. But the execution was so lame that you can't exonerate Vic and Bob on the grounds that quiz shows are primarily made for television.

Particularly grating were remarks about guests having to "work for their money tonight" and comedian Jeff Green observing - in pretty much his only line - "It's the easiest money I've made in my life." Doubtless it was, Jeff, but a piece of television dressed as theatre not being funny is bad enough, without us being reminded that we're paying over a third of a licence fee to watch it.

The interval provided relief. Strangely, the crowd at the urinal was quiet. At a football match, there would have been much talk of Lamarr not seeing enough of the ball or Dawes being wasted wide on the left, and someone would have eased the congestion by utilising a basin. At the Apollo, the crowd stood silent, as if witnesses to a recent trauma.

Thankfully, The Fast Show was on hand to perk up the evening. From the moment Paul Whitehouse made a suitably grand entrance and enquired "Anyone fancy a pint?", it was virtually word-perfect. Before the interval, all had been hapless larking around: now the comedy was seamless and carefully crafted. Examples abound: Simon Day advising how to chat up the birds - "All of a sudden, whack, change of pace, 'do you wanna bath?'". John Thomson as jazz-hound Louis Balfour, describing the absence of Inevitable Geometry as "disappointing" and the appearance of Solid Thought as "great". Whitehouse playing Rowley Birkin QC: "Blah, blah, blah, mermaid, blah, blah, blah, hopeless in the kitchen but a bloody good swimmer."

These three plus Swiss Toni, Suits You Sir, Jesse, the 13th Duke of Wybourne, Carl Hooper, Ted and the Earl, added up to rollicking entertainment. The revivified crowd laughed loudest at a sketch which alluded to the dross that had been served up in the first half. Rubbish and Brilliant are debating the merits of Shooting Stars and Brilliant is wondering if Lamarr "drags it down". "Ah, but you need him," replies Rubbish, "because without him, you're left with two silly northern cunts in dodgy suits." It's only when you're winning comfortably that you can start to mock the opposition.

'Shooting Stars & The Fast Show': Labatt's Apollo, W6 (0171 416 6080), to 1 Mar.

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