TV review: The Royal Variety Performance 2012; The Town

“Coming up,” promised the continuity announcer during an ad break for The Royal Variety Performance 2012, “Alan Carr and David Walliams as you have never seen them before!”

Which wasn’t strictly true. When the show returned, the pair proceeded to do what they are all too famous for – namely, camping around the stage throwing out the occasional gurn, grimace and pout to the audience. The big difference this time was that they were dressed as Ashleigh and Pudsey, the girl/dog duo who won Britain’s Got Talent earlier in the year.

As Walliams and Carr left the stage of the Royal Albert Hall, their places were taken by the genuine article – Ashleigh resplendent in a lurid pink body stocking, Pudsey naked as God intended him – who performed a routine based around the James Bond theme tunes.

To be perfectly honest, this didn’t vary too much in its content from all their other routines. But I like dogs, I like Ashleigh and I liked the fact that theirs was a genuine, old-fashioned variety act. Indeed, the pair would have fitted perfectly onto the bill of the very first Royal Variety Performance, 100 years ago, although Ashleigh – and possibly Pudsey – might have had to cover up a bit more.

Other highlights included the magnificent Bill Bailey showing off his multiple musical talents, an exuberant stand-up routine from Rhod Gilbert based around the less than promising topic of supermarket packaging, and the young cast of the West End musical Matilda performing one of Tim Minchin’s excellent compositions, and doing the show’s box office no harm whatsoever in the process.

I don’t know if three-part ITV drama The Town will have a shock ending, but it certainly got off to an unexpectedly alarming start. Its opening scene paints an altogether ordinary picture of a middle-class family as they are about to go to bed, accompanied by a suitably breezy soundtrack, only to cut to the following morning, when mum and dad lie dead beneath the duvet, having committed suicide together.

Andrew Scott plays their eldest son Mark, reluctantly returning to his home town for the funeral only to find notes and text messages that suggest the deaths may not have been quite as clear-cut, nor even self-inflicted, as everybody is happy to believe.

A mystery of a different shade altogether, one that Mark won’t be having to worry about, surrounds the casting of Phil Davis and Siobhan Redmond as the swiftly dispatched parents. They were only onscreen for a minute, tops – which either means that the production is prepared to limit the contribution of two very fine actors to fleeting, if effective, cameo performances, or that the pair will make their return in flashbacks. I strongly suspect the latter, especially as their names feature prominently in the opening credits.

For now, however, I’m content to sit back and enjoy a very well crafted, atmospheric and original thriller that has already shown itself to be highly skilled in the art of hooking and holding an audience’s attention.

The Royal Variety Performance 2012, ITV1, Monday, December 3, 7.30pm
The Town, ITV1, Wednesday, December 5, 9pm