The buzz among the audience packed into the New Theatre for the long-awaited return of The League of Gentlemen, felt more like that at a rock concert than a comedy show. But then this comedy group command a cult-like status among their fans.

First emerging to an uncertain response back in 1997 with their radio show On the Town with The League of Gentlemen followed by their hit TV show, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith and non-acting co-writer Jeremy Dyson, reinvented British comedy, their dark humour tapping into our love of the macabre while referencing characters and situations all too familiar to anyone familiar with life in an isolated community.

It had been 12 years since the Gentlemen’s previous tour – and much has happened in the meantime, not least successful spin-offs Psychoville and Inside No. 9.

Gatiss had described the shows as their “12 Years Later Tour” and revealed they were “not going to play the whole of the new album”.

Instead, to flog the musical analogy, they opened with some old favourites, reworked a few classics and remixed their biggest hits, bringing the whole thing up to date.

From the off it was clear the place was full of hardened fans, each character received with thunderous applause and delighted whoops and old sketches with cheers of recognition.

We had the impenetrable Go, Johnny Go,Go, Go card game routine, a spooky twist on the already dark character of Mick McNamara (Gatiss) – former guide at Stump Hole Cavern, the Legz Akimbo community theatre company, the hideous Pop (Pemberton) humiliating his son in front of his new girlfriend, a musical number from failed pop star Les McQueen (Gatiss), Vicar Bernice Woodall (Shearsmith) dispensing brutal advice and hapless vet Mr Chinnery (Gatiss) treating a panda in a routine which was not for the squeamish.

But it was the icons who drew the biggest cheers.

Psychotic Restart officer Pauline (Pemberton) had the place in uproar with another stomach churning routine with Mickey, Ross and the even more monstrous Employment Service officer Cathy Carter-Smith. Harvey and Val Denton (Pemberton and Gatiss) trade body fluids with cousin Benjamin in the most stomach-churning routine of the night.

The stars though were, of course, Edward and Tubbs Tattsyrup (Shearsmith and Pemberton) and the deliciously sinister Papa Lazarou (Shearsmith).

Moments of audience participation had us hiding in our seats – particularly when predatory German teacher Herr Lip (Pemberton) – ‘the Queen of Duisburg’ went out in search of volunteers for a brilliantly double-entendre-laden quiz.

Such is the quality of the writing that even material from the first series sounds fresh and remains very funny. Nor have these strange characters lost their power to shock.

How a cast of just three can pull off such an ambitious show – with dozens of costume changes and physical transformations – is incredible.

The world has changed since our first visit to Royston Vaisey, but these masterly comic creations are as fresh, funny, terrifying and recognisable, as ever – and just as dark.