After a 12-year hiatus, comedy quartet The League of Gentlemen returned to TV screens for a trio of anniversary specials.
Now, Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith are embarking on a nationwide tour, including three dates at Sunderland Empire.
What has inspired you to go back on the road again?
Steve Pemberton: “It’s the perfect time. The live show is the most fun version of The League of Gentlemen that we do. We’d been talking about doing something for a while. Having just made the BBC2 anniversary specials, this is a natural time to go back on the road while it’s on people’s minds. And after such a long time away, there is a real appetite for it. We’re not forcing it onto people; wherever we go, we are constantly being asked about when we are bringing it back. So we thought, ‘Why not do it now?’ We can’t wait!”
What do you think makes the live shows so special?
Jeremy Dyson: “What I’ve always loved about the live shows and what still defines them now is the rigour and discipline that they impose on the writing. From the very beginning, we had a rule that only one prop or item of clothing was allowed to define a character. When we started in the mid-1990s with a residency at the Canal Cafe Theatre in London, it had a tiny dressing room, so everything had to go in a carrier bag. That meant you really had to think about the character when writing it.”
So you’re coming back for the right reasons?
Mark Gatiss: “Yes. The lovely thing is we are doing it because we want to do it and not because we have to do it. Many reunions tend to be for the money and have a sense of desperation about them. But this isn’t like that. We have talked for ages about doing something again because we never split up. We just stopped doing it. So it’s very special to be doing it with a happy heart rather than a sense of obligation.”
The League of Gentlemen’s work has always lent itself to live performance, hasn’t it?
Reece Shearsmith: “Yes. The League of Gentlemen was never better than when it was live. The thing that surprised people was the theatricality of it. It was properly thrilling to be in the audience. There was such horror and silence and awkwardness – which were then broken by laughter. We managed to manipulate the audience into feeling really uncomfortable and then breaking it with a big laugh. It was palpably brilliant when we had those moments.”
So are you returning to where it all started?
Steve Pemberton: “Yes. It’s not like the show was conceived as a TV programme. We won’t have to scratch our heads and think, ‘How are we going to do this live?’ These characters started when we walked out on stage saying things like, ‘Okey cokey, pig in a pokey.’ The live show is simply going back to our roots.”
How did you go about reviving these famous characters?
Jeremy Dyson: “We just started thinking, ‘What’s happened to Pauline and Tubbs and Edward in the past 12 years?’ If enough time has passed, it’s exciting imagining what has become of them. At that moment, we realised how much richness there is in those characters. We didn’t have to dig very deep to start having those conversations.
The League of Gentlemen live shows have invariably been impeccably prepared, haven’t they?
Mark Gatiss: “Yes. We’ve always prided ourselves on giving people value for money. But not anymore! [Laughs]. Those days are gone! A big thing for us has always been really rehearsing it well and creating a great show. People remember both our previous tours very fondly – and you can’t say that about everything you do. It was just a really good night out.”
What are you most looking forward to about touring again?
Reece Shearsmith: “The fact that we will be forced to spend more time together –that’s a great thing. We really enjoy each other’s company. These days we don’t get to spend as much time together as we would like. But I never laugh more than when I’m with these guys. It’s great to be able to keep that going through our work.”
Is it quite affecting that after 30 years, you four are still so close?
Steve Pemberton: “Absolutely. The extraordinary thing is we were all friends before any of this even existed. It’s all grown out of our friendship. The fact that we are still able to keep working together, is very moving.”
•The League of Gentlemen Live Again is at Sunderland Empire from August 24-26. Tickets from 0844 871 3022