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‘We’re literally going to die for Doritos’

Posted on 4th March 2010. No Comment

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The Durham Revue Comedyfest, 1st March 2010, Gala Theatre

I always thought that everyone loved a little bit of comedy. Certainly everyone in the Gala auditorium at the Durham Revue’s Comedyfest (with a bit of Oxford Revue and Cambridge Footlights on the side) was up for a laugh or two. And by and large the actors remembered to pick them up from the wings as they walked onto stage, serving them up with aplomb.

Having said that, I find myself wondering whether the members of the Oxford Revue like a little bit of comedy. I gave them the benefit of the doubt for the shakiness of their first sketch. But, despite its relative originality, the idea itself didn’t really do it for me, and as with many of their sketches, I didn’t feel the actors were in character – or even fully involved in what they were doing – all the time. This was also a problem in the story of Horatio, the OAP-cum-spy, which was returned to throughout the set. His spying may have been top notch, but sadly Horatio’s voice occasionally sounded not unlike that of a posh school boy. In his first scene I actually thought that the reason he couldn’t bend down to pick up a piece of paper was because he’d never had to lift a finger before, not because he was a shrivelled old man. Having said that, the idea itself worked well, and the closing scene in which Horatio found his enemy and charged (or rather, shuffled) at him across the stage was brilliantly executed.

Thankfully the ‘bridge’ half of Oxbridge had more than a smattering of comic genius to make up for ‘Ox’s’ failings

The sketch with the very long-legged movement coach who gallivanted around the stage like a faun, and then as a mouse who discovers his lady-mouse having a lesbian affair was a favourite – especially as there were implications that the mouse story was actually a poorly concealed description of the last minutes of the coach’s own marriage. However such highlights (which weren’t blazing anyway) were lost amongst puns on shitsu that have been done many a time by little children, and impressions of drunken “shit lads” that most people can do themselves, having a good laugh for free in the process.

Thankfully the ‘bridge’ half of Oxbridge had more than a smattering of comic genius to make up for ‘Ox’s’ failings. Immediately more arresting, the first stand-up act was dressed in orange (as opposed to Oxford’s entirely black get up). His sidelong glances at the less obvious ironies in life (the picture of a bed on the back of The Big Issue), and some of the more obvious ones (the University of Reading pronounced like the verb) were delivered with confident self-deprecation.

a musical without them would be like a Disney film without a blatant moral point, which added another layer of irony to an already exceptional sketch

The Footlights’ floundered slightly over some of the sketches with more than one person. For a short sketch, the joke of the barbershop group needed to be more obvious. The hostage scene was a little too grating on the ears, although the punch line was fantastically subversive. And this all relative to their solo scenes. Despite having seen the ‘Death Drive’ poem at last year’s Comedyfest, it was an outstandingly energetic performance that I could have watched on repeat for a while. The final stand up from the Footlights opened with an innovative twist on a Flight of the Concords gag (though I imagine it didn’t make much sense to anyone who hasn’t seen them). Phil Wang’s ‘thinker’ jokes had the added entertainment of the spot-the-slow-people-in-the-audience game, and complemented the fast paced ‘Death Drive’ poem that preceded it.

Easily the best sketch of the night was, unsurprisingly, a Footlights creation. Astutely observed and performed with hilarious sincerity, the demonstration of a chorus part in a musical (without any other actors present) brilliantly highlighted the ridiculousness of those pretend conversations, exaggerated laughter and over-acted cavorting we have all seen countless times on the musical stage. Of course, a musical without them would be like a Disney film without a blatant moral point, which added another layer of irony to an already exceptional sketch.

puns … proved to be one of the Revue’s fortes in terms of writing

Treading in the giant-sized footsteps of the Footlights was no easy challenge for the Durham Revue. However, their set had a wholly different feel from that which preceded it (I’m ignoring Oxford now); it was one of whimsical delight, rather than the more assertive humour of the Cambridge lot. There were, however, a few too many one-liners which gave a sense of discontinuity at times, and meant that the less memorable ones became even more so. The game of Chinese whispers needed more development as the joke wasn’t immediately clear; then again, Andrew Chambers Barratt as the real live person on the other end of an on-hold call is a keeper, as is Harry Bresslaw’s young Newton under an apple tree, who “understands the gravity of the situation” when an apple falls on his head.

Bresslaw, together with Tessa Coates, gave consistently strong performances. Many of their sketches centred on puns (cooking bacon/cooking Francis Bacon and blackberry fruit/Blackberry phone were favourites) which were built upon cleverly, and proved to be one of the group’s fortes in terms of writing. Coates’ performance in the latter is a perfect example of her comic presence, it was a short sketch, yet her expressions and body language gave it depth. She likewise carried the sketch in which she played a ‘doctor’ to Alina Gregory’s patient. Gregory’s comic timing was accomplished, but her characterisation was lagging behind Coates’.

The group was much more cohesive by this stage, in spite of earlier disjointedness between sketches

In spite of this, I felt that she and Ned French were underused. Both brought clever touches to the sketches they were in, but aside from the whole group ones, they were unnecessarily sidelined. French’s horror when he discovered that Coates, as the ditsy astronaut, had removed the oxygen cylinders from the spaceship and replaced them with Doritos, was highly entertaining, and together with Ben Whittle made an inspired frame for the oblivious Coates who sat behind. A combination of the sincere ridiculousness, the dryness and the madness of all the other writing and performances, it was by far the Revue’s best sketch of the night. Technically seamless both in terms of timing and staging, it showed just how much they are capable of.

Although the game of charades in their opening sketch felt a little flat, Ben Whittle excelled as the unwanted friend at the party. (The difference in character between this meek little boy and the testosterone-fuelled son meeting his dad’s gay partner in a later sketch was comedy in itself). The return to an identical scene a few hundred years earlier in the closing sketch was far more successful. It had more scope for jokes (of the Austen-esque variety) that provided the necessary wit to balance out the physical humour of the punch line which the first scene was lacking. The group was much more cohesive by this stage, and in spite of earlier disjointedness between sketches, performed a show far slicker than last term’s. On an evening when the Footlights outshone the uninspiring Oxonians, the hosts proved that Durham is a mine of comic talent.

Rosie Boscawen

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