first night

The Durham Revue Returners' Show

Madeline Ratcliffe says farewell to some of Durham's finest performers.

The Durham Revue always promises to deliver a good show, and tonight was no exception. The large crowd that queued buzzing outside Castle Hall was not disappointed, and every sketch got a laugh – although this was a very sympathetic home-crowd of course. But partiality aside, what makes the Revue stand out as arguably the best group of performers in Durham, is their masterful assurance, which elevates their material and ensures their performances are always professional. The confidence of their delivery, vital to avoid those awkward comedy show moments that are plentiful at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, persuades audiences that even the most average sketches are funny.

Having said that, the funniest moment last night was an unscripted breakdown during a swan lake/flamingo sketch. The unexpected debut of goggles in the flamingo’s costume proved too much for Stephanie Jones’ poker face, and her admirable, but failed, attempts to keep calm and carry on were received with roars of laughter. The punch line of the sketch itself would have been ordinary, but this surreal distraction from the joke was hilarious. This is not to say that there weren’t many fabulously funny and well crafted sketches too, and occasional moments of brilliance. It has often been said of the Revue, but it bears repeating, that they are at their best when they are most surreal and bizarre. The ten-second ‘Brief Encounter’ and ‘Lost in Translation’ were beautifully simple, and inspired. As were the fantastic poets going over the top, because the pen is mightier than the sword, the Durham fresher meets a third year, and the method actor’s RADA audition.

Not all the sketches are this good. Every comedian’s set has a few misses, but in the case of the Durham Revue, these aren’t bad, just less original, or the payoff is less convincing, and sometimes feels slightly forced or incomplete – such as the oddball driving instructor or the parody of Captain Oates’ sacrifice.

Even when the sketches didn’t work perfectly, the delivery was always impeccable, and the professionalism and timing, a treat. The ambition of the sketches too is fantastic, the knowing sketch which plays on the distinction between tragedy and comedy, while not their funniest, brought a grimace and a giggle to the face of this English student, and the knowing wink to Durham students who have had to study the English Canon in depth, or Homer’s endless repetitions and name-droppings in Book 3, also goes down well.

In such a polished and comfortable ensemble it seems unfair to pick stars – every member earns their place and delivers a terrific comic performance, but David Knowles’ subtlety and fine physical comedy stands out, showcased particularly well as Henry V’s spear holder. Stephanie Jones too, can reduce the audience to helpless laughter with just a roll of her eye, and Fergus Leathem is a buoyant comic tour-de-force with a genial swagger, and for me, the stand-out cast member.


This was then a fitting swan song to the Durham Revue as we know it, a confident performance, full of wit, surrealism and merriment, and all those involved can be proud of their show.

Madeline Ratcliffe 

14 October 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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