Armstrong & Miller

Swearing airmen, saucy parlour games and streamers fail to paper over the cracks

As British comedy double acts go, Armstrong and Miller are more Hale and Pace than Morecambe and Wise. But whereas Gareth and Norman at least had ‘The Stonk’ and the Management, Alexander and Ben have Brabbins and Fyffe’s tedious piano ditties and the World War II airmen, whose chav-speak schtick (‘…and sh*t’) wears thin fast.

This stage version of The Armstrong & Miller Show at the Grand Opera House begins with the WWII pair descending from the rigging on parachutes. ‘Do you think these things go back up?’ asks Armstrong’s airman, as he catches sight of the Belfast crowd. ‘It’s not as skanky as Ballymena,’ counters Miller. ‘There’s this place in Ballymena you shouldn’t go after dark – outside.’ The local references (there are also asides about Antrim and Thompson’s Garage) are funny, but overall it’s slim pickings for laughs.

Still, the Range Rover-driving, red wine-drinking target demographic seem to be enjoying it – well, most of them. One fan, roped into playing the stooge in a sketch featuring Armstrong’s inappropriate dentist, climbs onstage with a face like thunder. It makes for an awkward atmosphere as Armstrong pokes about in her mouth, rubs up against her and delivers squirming tales of sexual conquest – though if you’re going to sit in the front row at a comedy gig, you’ve got to expect these things.

Elsewhere, the duo play the first song they wrote together, which is virtually unrecognisable as humour, and preside over a hit-or-miss assortment of bridging video segments (a World of Warcraft spoof only comes to life with the appearance of Keith Harris and Orville) and elaborate sketches, often joined by supporting foil Katherine Jakeways (who actually gets one of the best responses of the evening with her smartly executed half-Nazi, half-French Resistance uniformed character).

There are chuckles to be had, too, with businessmen Pete (Armstrong) and Rog (Miller), the former of whom is having an affair with the latter’s wife, offering up increasingly ludicrous explanations, and the old-school vampires Pharius (Miller) and Horschstadt (Armstrong) – sumptuously attired, extravagantly coiffured bloodsuckers who are finding it hard to adjust to the 21st century. This one is an especially clever idea, though tends to rely too heavily on Twilight gags.

After the interval, the production continues with more stalwarts from the team’s BBC series – the modern-day cavemen, the disgraced children’s TV presenters, depressed stand-up Jilted Jim, who threatens to rip audience members’ trousers off… The stars paper over the cracks by throwing everything – giant dildos, pies, Victorian dancing, saucy parlour games, a grand finale that sees streamers fired over the crowd – into the mix in the quest for merriment, but it’s in vain.

The two-hour spectacle climaxes with the return of the airmen, spouting their usual banter (‘We is in planes,’ ‘Last one back to base is a retard,’ etc). Armstrong and Miller are talented performers, but on the whole this show, to borrow the vernacular of their most famous characters, is sh*t and sh*t.