first night

Durham Revue: ComedyFest

Tom Mander goes on a whistlestop tour of the nation's best student comedy, at the Gala Theatre.

 The Durham Revue offered us a rare extension for DST into the broader theatrical world outside Durham in the ComedyFest. Joined at the Gala by The Oxford Revue and The Cambridge Footlights, and off the back of the critically acclaimed Gigglebox there was definitely a lot of hype to live up to. The audience went in expecting a sea of hilarity with each sketch crashing over us, funnier than the last. They were not disappointed.
The performance gave everything one was expecting and more. A slick, sharp execution of inventive and innovative material demonstrated the best in UK student comedy. The billing of the night worked so well: the audience lapped up the edgier Oxford sketches, followed by a barrage of quick fire quirks from Footlights and then the home team to play out the second half. The variety of material offered felt affluent – from the crisp observational sketches to the heart-thumping audience participation; no comedic stone was unturned.
Oxford’s start immediately pulled the eager audience in. A strong spot and a dramatic soundscape off the Macbook on stage was highly engaging and offered lucid scenes from George McGoldrick, including ‘The Tennis Umpire’, which particularly stood out for me. Oxford’s tone switched entirely as they became more conventional with Jack Chisnall and Georgia Bruce, but by no means any less funny. From the finer points of what it means to be a thespian to the life of H from Steps, the pair waltzed through their material with the audience howling in their wake.
Next, Footlights erupted onto the stage. Their professionalism and chemistry as a group kept the energy very high, while the jokes landed like uppercuts time after time. Innovative takes on what happens in Parliament with Sam Knights and Joe Shalom, Harrie Gooch and the church’s view on marriage, and Declan Amphlett and Riss Obolensky on what would happen if a dyslexic ordered the dictionary were just some of the gems they offered. Asking the big questions, like what is actually going on at the end of Grease, was my personal highlight and really showed their comedic creativity. I must commend them both on keeping the ‘you-all-applied-and-we-know-it’ banter to a minimum. However, we were by no means misrepresented.
The second half saw the Durham Revue play their home crowd with ease. Capitalising on the success of Gigglebox, the company kept the TV theme and this provided a strong base on which they would sculpt their hilarious antics. The material bounced between techniques and genres, which made their hour fly by and indulged the audience extravagantly. Observational routines, like in ‘The History Channel Presenters’, notably Alison Middleton and Luke Maskell, made jabs for the wider audience a show like this inevitably brings in. Meanwhile ‘Coming Out’, with Abigail Weinstock, Tristan Robinson and Tom Harper, struck major chords with the student population. I thought their breaking of the fourth wall and perception comedy was incredibly strong as they went ‘gaga for the Gala’ and questioned the tell-tale signs of who writes a certain sketch.
I think the audience participation broke some people. It definitely broke the egos of some people’s masculinity (one reviewer included), but also splitting the sides of the whole house. Ambika Mod and Andrew Shire’s grasp on the room held us in a vicious circle of laughing at ourselves, doing stupid things as a herd and then laughing again. A most enjoyably painful experience.
When writing a review, it’s difficult to work out whether you’re trying to help the company polish their work or convince people to see it. As this was a one-night-only and I have no idea how anyone on that stage could polish anything I saw tonight, I don’t know why I’m writing this. Maybe it’s to confirm how good an investment anyone who was in the audience with me tonight made by buying a ticket. Maybe it’s to convince you that seeing any of these companies at any point would be a fantastic idea. But be assured that it is the best show I have seen this year- possibly even ever- in Durham.

22 February 2016

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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