tue 23/09/2014

Inside No 9, BBC Two | TV reviews, news & interviews

Inside No 9, BBC Two

Another dark comedy hit for League of Gentlemen alumni

Steve Pemberton (top) and Reece Shearsmith have written and star in 'Inside No. 9'

The League of Gentlemen – performers Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, and co-writer Jeremy Dyson – have been rather busy since they left Royston Vasey behind (temporarily we're told, as the foursome may set up shop for local people again next year). Dyson has recently been script-editing The Wrong Mans, while Gatiss has been busy appearing in Sherlock and Coriolanus, among other things. Now Reece and Shearsmith follow up their wonderful Psychoville with Inside No 9.

Inside No 9 is very much in the vein of Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected (1979-88), being an anthology of darkly comic tales, here set in a different No 9 each week. The locations include a country manor, a flat and a hotel room, and the stories, which range from broad comedy to the surreal, feature an unsettling twist.

The first episode, of six, was Sardines; Andrew (Timothy West), a bluff no-nonsense businessman, was throwing an engagement party for his daughter, Rebecca, whose fiancé, Jeremy (Ben Willbond) had invited a few colleagues along for the “fun and games”, which are no fun at all, of course.

Despite Andrew's home being a rambling country mansion, the action was set entirely in one bedroom, and most of it in a large wardrobe as the house guests were forced to play a game of sardines. As ever with anything League of Gentlemen-related, there was a collection of skewed characters, including Tim Key as Ian (the bloke in IT nobody can quite place), Katherine Parkinson as the brittle but too-eager-to-please Rebecca, and Anne Reid as the elderly cleaner Geraldine, here to take coats and serve drinks but who thinks she's been invited as a guest. She entered the bedroom to use what she called the “en-sweetie”.

The characters' inter-connected stories unravelled through the half-hour, with various secrets being let out of the bag and a chicken or two coming home to roost, to mix metaphors. The claustrophobia of the setting, meanwhile, heightened the tension.

In a starry cast that also included Anna Chancellor (pictured above) and Julian Rhind-Tutt, there was much to enjoy in beautifully nuanced performances, particularly by Key and Parkinson, while the more obvious gags came from Shearsmith's Stuart, all breezy campness, and his hilarious bitching with his partner, Carl (Pemberton). Somebody mentioned not being able to touch snakes: “You've got that, haven't you Carl,” said Stuart. “I'd hardly call it a snake, Stuart. More like a scaly lizard,” came Carl's reply.

David Kerr directed a pitch-perfect piece with no character overwritten or line overplayed. Reece and Pemberton told a multitude of storIes – rowing couple, brutal father, lovelorn ex, smarmy businessman on the make - with great economy, and the twist was never telegraphed. Later episodes have equally star casting, with Gemma Arterton, Denis Lawson and Julia Davis among the line-ups. I can't wait.

There was much to enjoy in beautifully nuanced performances, particularly by Key and Parkinson

rating

5

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