The Durham Revue Allstars
Dominic Wakeford reviews the Revue…
There aren’t many audiences, in Durham or elsewhere, who would sit for nearly four hours in the theatre without becoming, at the very least, a little fidgety. At the Assembly Rooms on Saturday though, the Durham Revue All-Stars provided an evening of such unrivalled hilarity that the 200-minute running time (excluding a 20-minute interval in which the majority of the audience stampeded to Hatfield for much-needed alcoholic refreshment, myself included) was the least of our concerns, as we were afforded the company of a group of Durham students and alumni who surely include some of the brightest upcoming stars of the British comedy scene.
Ed Gamble was in my mind almost worth the price of admission alone
Among them was our compere for the evening, Ed Gamble, a Philosophy graduate whose comparison between Theseus’ Paradox and the ever-changing Sugababes line-up was in my mind almost worth the price of admission alone (all the money from the evening went to DUCK, incidentally). Despite occasionally relying upon easy laughs at the expense of the Durham college stereotypes – John’s is a monastery, tally-ho at Castle etc – Gamble proved far smarter (and, more importantly, funnier) than the average student comedian and his genial but caustic compering helped the evening progress smoothly. I think we’ve all seen the worst kind of stand-ups where unwitting audience members are subjected to awkward ad-libbing and banal banter, a route that Gamble largely managed to avoid as the show continued. However in one audience member, Evan Thomas, our host found somebody he couldn’t even begin to comprehend – mincing onto the stage in a kind of quasi-seduction, and culminating by being wrestled to the ground by the now-shirtless Gamble. If a slightly unhinged chap wearing walking boots to the theatre in June sounds like your kind of man, be sure to check Evan and his sketch group ‘Just Deserts’ out in the future!
My personal favourite offerings came from the Durham Revue ’08 group
Back to the acts themselves though, and a show which largely defied the patchy nature of sketch comedy and scored far more hits than misses. The madcap enthusiasm of the current Durham Revue group may have lacked some of the polish of their older contemporaries, but they certainly appear to be a force to be reckoned with on the back of their recent festival success. Some sketches, such as the University Challenge effort from the Durham Revue ’09 group could have done with some judicious editing, though the strength of the performances largely rose above any prolixity in the writing. With this sketch having followed an ingenious riff on the typical snobbery of Mac users and our amazement when everything does indeed fly off the screen when pressing F3, it would be churlish to focus on the small failures in an evening of such comic success. My personal favourite offerings came from the Durham Revue ’08 group, whose suggestion that Tintin’s canine companion Snowy may be so-called as he is covered in cocaine, not to mention a disturbingly hilarious insight into Sigmund Freud’s formative years (including mention of ‘Mummy’s special sauce’ and lots of Oedipal coquettishness from Mrs Freud) roused some of the biggest laughs.
from the ‘06-‘07 Revue, the irrepressibly zany presence of Pete Riley elevated their work into something truly sublime
Throughout the evening there was a tangible sense of comic camaraderie, but some special attention must be paid to some whose individual presences will likely stick in my fellow audience member’s minds. One of the more versatile female performers, Stevie Martin, was found in both the ’09 and ’08 Revues and effortlessly handled both a perfect impersonation of Dame Maggie Smith and the amorous excesses of Freud’s mother. Meanwhile from the ‘06-‘07 Revue, the irrepressibly zany presence of Pete Riley elevated their work into something truly sublime – his deranged German teacher brought the house down and reduced co-stars Gamble and Tom Neenan to barely-suppressed giggling on stage.
Outside of the Revue groups were two acts who had gone it alone since leaving Durham, the Leftovers and the Gentleman of Leisure, whose comic proficiency and stylistic difference to the other acts provided a welcome dose of variety. In particular the latter group’s literary parodies went down well with the audience, a sizeable majority of whom seemed to be studying English given the more obscure suggestions from Charles Dickens’ oeuvre during their ‘What the Dickens’ sketch! Meanwhile the Leftovers, preoccupied with their sponsorship from the Chatham Historic Dockyard, offered us an insight into their ‘Schooldayz’ and two brilliant performers, Neil Wates and Jez Scharf, were given the chance to let loose – catch them and the GOL if you can at Edinburgh this summer.
By the end of Mohammed’s short but near-faultless set, we were left in no doubt of his considerable comic abilities.
Without denigrating the earlier acts, I can safely say that one of the most talented comics was saved until last: Nick Mohammed. Fresh from recent BBC appearances (if you haven’t been lucky enough to encounter him yet, I recommend the ‘David Sunshine’ sketch on YouTube), Mohammed’s set was initially greeted with somewhat timid laughter, but once he unveiled his gallery of acutely-observed characters including the typical Durham girl and camp weatherman, we were all refreshed by his infectious energy. His deftest stroke was a motional speaker who constantly implored his audience to ‘get involved’ as he tried to teach us memory techniques and the difference between ‘mints’, ‘mince’ and ‘mince’, before concluding with an astounding card trick and innovative conductor sketch. By the end of Mohammed’s short but near-faultless set, we were left in no doubt of his considerable comic abilities.
Any residual complaints about the show’s gargantuan length pale into insignificance then, when one considers just how hilarious the show was – owing in part to Gamble’s reliably sardonic compering and boundless mania conjured up by Nick Mohammed in the evening’s closing stages. Exhausted though we may have been exiting onto the Bailey at 11.30pm, there are far worse ways to be tired out than from laughing too much.