When Cardinal Burns clattered onto our screens in 2012, it was the duo's black, sometimes gross-out comedy that grabbed our attention. Penis-munching zombies and spiked birthday cakes planted them somewhere between Big Train and The League of Gentlemen — no wonder the critics fawned, and the second series of their sketch show won promotion to Channel 4.
The pair's latest live outing certainly gets messy — a sweat-drenched opener (front rowers take heed) is swiftly followed by a beer-downing challenge (one pint in under a minute — impossible, surely?), but there's little to force a sharp intake of breath, or make you shift uneasily in your seat. It's like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is some. Some more black.
Yet Cardinal Burns were always about much more than prompting 'eww-ing' or 'err-ing'. Indeed, some of their funnier sketches from mundane acorns grow. Take the pair of gay guys recounting how they met at a conference in Hove. Or two 'Scaw-arsh' mentors who take up five minutes of our time bemoaning the fact they're disappointed with us (for what, we never find out). The dialogue is sharply observed, and the chemistry translates to every role these two inhabit.
There are some glaring omissions from the Cardinal Burns' canon — no mundane Banksy, no Office Flirt. Yet it's to their credit the pair can keep a room abuzz without reverting to catchphrases or flogging skits half to death.
Some favourites do make the cut. Ditsy teens Rachel and Yumi put in an appearance, although it's a bit too close to Chris Lilley's Summer Heights High for our money, and one of the weak links of the evening. Bukake and Hashtag (two white, middle-class men playing gropey Turkish minicab drivers must hit the bullseye) are in the mix too — offering their crotch-thrusting take on Sex on Fire ("Ohhhh-oh-oh / Your seat can go higher").
Inevitably, the pared-down space of Soho Theatre's basement limits scope for the duo to perform their more ambitious works. Missing is the likes of the ingenious Crystal Maze skit — way too complex to stage here. One of the joys of Cardinal Burns' TV series is its nuances and attention to detail; strokes of this live show are somewhat broader, but the show is hilarious nonetheless.
Cardinal Burns are at Soho Theatre from now until 20 September (14 September is a double-length show and runs for 120 minutes). Tickets £17.50 (£10 concessions). Londonist saw the play on a complimentary ticket.