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NME - MARCH 17, 2001
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It's a rule of situation comedy that the 'situation' is all about being trapped. Only Fools and Horses was about 3 blokes imprisoned in their hand to mouth Peckham existence. The Royle Family is about a family trapped in its own indolence. Even the Simpsons shows a group of people stuck in the same situation, holding each other back because (apart from Lisa) they are too dumb or unruly to move forward.

But no sitcom has taken the principle as far as The League Of Gentlemen, the most twisted, hilarious and bizarre comedy on TV since Monty Python's Flying Circus. The sign on the outskirts of the village in which it's set proclaims 'Welcome to Royston Vasey. You'll never leave'. And every character who happens upon this bizarre enclave somewhere in the Northern countryside, remains imprisoned forever more in a world of porcine local shop proprietors, sexually frustrated exchange teachers, sadistic restart officers and an unforgettable transsexual cabbie. Forged from classic comedy components twisted into macabre shapes, The League Of Gentlemen pushes a tired format into the realm of fine art. But you knew this already - after all, the League was voted Best TV programme at the NME Carling awards last month.

Watching the show's most excessive moments-the terrifying appearance of  Papa Lazarou in last year's Christmas Special is enough to make David Lynch wake up screaming. It's easy to imagine the League themselves to be as unhinged as their characters (they once claimed their brains were changed forever by a TV showing of Carry on Screaming they all saw - independently of each other - in 1976). But sitting around an unstable aluminium table in the Kentish Town Forum, a ramshackle theatre in darkest London, the four gents seem the very model of decorum; more affable college lecturers than the monsters and malapropians that populate Royston Vasey.

The foursome chatter with play-ground enthusiasm about everything from Hear'say ("they were all bouncing around on MTV like baby elephants") and the looming general election ("we're the new Red Wedge. Let's rock the vote"), to their current stage based tour ("we were a bit worried about the wigs, but it's fine now.") Titled A Local show for Local people - a corruption of "a local shop for local people", the catchphrase screamed by pug-nosed proprietors Tubbs and Edward - it features the first half performed in tuxedos and comprising of a selection of largely well-known sketches furnished by the occasional prop, and a second half described by Mark as being "full on Royston Vasey".

The Gentlemen plan to flesh out the characters even further for their third series. Leaning more towards  the story-led format of their Christmas Special, the team promises there will be "longer narratives", less sketches and an altogether "different feel" to the proceedings. Filming will begin later in the year but in the meantime, the Gentlemen have other projects to attend to. Mark has just finished filming a straight role as a con man in a new thriller. Both he and Jeremy have also recently penned an episode of Randall & Hopkirk (deceased). Steve and Reece meanwhile, will concentrate on the writing of the third series, undoubtedly picking up the odd acting role on the way both starred in 1999's This Years Love). And what about those persistent rumours of a League Of Gentlemen film? "That's something we'll defiantly try to do at some point," nods Jeremy.



 

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