Special Disco Mention #27 : Reece Shearsmith
Somewhere between clowning as minstrel faced wife snatcher Papa Lazarou in League of Gentleman, and terrifying as the banally mendacious wife killer Malcom Webster in The Widower, Reece Shearsmith has become one of the greatest character actors in Britain. He’s pretty underrated, but that’s par for the course when you live in a country where James Corden’s professional bum licking is considered comedy gold.
Shearsmith, meanwhile, has spent a career portraying petty minded monsters, vicious deviants, snarling gossips and hapless psychos, a pinched lipped reflection of the smallest and meanest of English ambitions. We doubt you’ll be seeing him on Children in Need anytime soon.
At turns hilarious and horrifying; his performances are underlain with a genuine affection for his characters, no matter how shitty they may be. These are men (and, often, women) driven by pathos and broken dreams, thwarted ambitions and grasping envy, but Shearsmith doesn’t laugh at them and their useless schemes, instead he lends them a weird dignity. In his recent performance as Malcolm Webster, he imbued the killer with a humanity that would have been absent in lesser hands – at times, and against the odds, Webster was almost likable.
It’s impossible to talk about Shearsmith without mentioning his long standing partnership with Steve Pemberton. Whilst duo may have gone a bit off the boil with the never-quite-what-it-could-be Psychoville series of a couple of years back, their recent mini-series Inside No 9 has been a triumph of writing and execution. As strong as any of the greatest moments of League of Gentlemen, the half hour plays of Inside No 9 combine horror, slapstick comedy and incisive satire, in an entirely unique way – at times to perfection. The first episode (and this is a big SPOILER if you haven’t watched it…) ends with an abuse survivor locking his elderly abusers’ family in a cupboard, dousing the cupboard and himself with petrol, and preparing to immolate the lot. As TV comedy goes, it ain’t exactly The Good Life. But it is fucking funny. We live on an island full of weirdos and obsessives, where men lurk in sheds and bodies show up under patios, where politicians fleece the taxpayer to stick mock tudor decoration on the front of their houses whilst Knights of the Realm nonce in broad daylight. We're a disturbed, parochial nation, how can our comedy not be the same..?
We can only hope that one day Shearsmith and Pemberton will reunite with Mark Gatiss and bring the League of Gentlemen back to our screens – although whether they can ever top the genius of the blood spattered Christmas special is open to debate. Regardless, right now Shearsmith is at the pinnacle of his profession. Whilst we eagerly await his next project, let us raise a mug of lukewarm, overly sweet tea in salute. Reece Shearsmith, you, Sir, are worthy of a Special Disco Mention!