first night

The Durham Revue: The Revusual Suspects

Uday Duggal enjoys an evening of comedy with this year's Durham Revue troupe.

Even in a post-truth world that demands our doubt, there remain certain, er, certainties. And in their reliability, they offer a measure of comfort. The Sun will rise and fall, the Moon will wax and wane, and The Durham Revue will leave their audiences rolling in the aisles, cackling with delight. And so it came to pass last night in The Assembly Rooms Theatre.

Upon entering the audience were greeted by a bare stage, save for four wooden chairs in a row. For practically any other Assembly Rooms production, this would be unacceptably spartan. For the Revue, however, this was all that was required, a functional canvas upon which they flung their dazzling, irrepressible array of ideas. The show kicked off with an unabashedly unwieldy premise: the Revue had been arrested for ‘crimes against comedy’. The evidence? A selection of the troupe’s sketches, of course, shown one after another as ‘case files’ of irrefutable proof. Batches of unrelated sketches were tied together with segments featuring an incarcerated Revue being questioned, placed on trial and plotting escape. This framing device of sorts was a ramshackle one that occasionally felt slightly superfluous, although it did provide fodder for some sparkling moments. The glorious ‘mock trial’ scene featured some over-exuberant Southern gents (I do declare, Mike Bedigan absolutely nails it here) and some hilarious, highly inventive legal work on the part of Andrew Shires and Tristan Robinson, which has to be seen to be believed.

The sketches themselves were consistently excellent, though the clever premises of openers ‘One Man Show’ and ‘Halloween’ felt like they deserved slightly sharper endings. It was a very strong start nonetheless, and The Revusual Suspects simply got better and better. The magic of a successful sketch show so often lies with sustaining an exhilarating barrage of premises, characters, locations and idiosyncrasies. The Revue did this with aplomb, taking us on a rollicking journey featuring tennis stars, spaghetti westerns, sitcoms, sarcastic doctors and Snapchat filters, and that’s barely scratching the surface. It’s all the more impressive when one remembers that all this material is newly written, and being performed collectively for the first time. It is, quite simply, a stunning testament to the group’s talent.

A few individual mentions. The two new recruits, Lily Edwards and Bróccán Tyzack-Carlin, were excellent throughout. In particular, Edwards was side-splittingly sublime as an adorable schoolgirl with some unorthodox Halloween costume ideas, whilst Tyzack-Carlin put on a masterclass in comedic physicality and magnificently goofy dancing. His performance as a perfume advertiser of rare talents was a highlight. As for the more seasoned Revue members, each and every one had moments of brilliance. Tom Harper showed real range with ease, equally convincing as a nervy, bumbling party guest and a slick game show host. Revue veterans Ambika Mod and Andrew Shires were, as ever, reliably brilliant, with Mod’s baffled bemusement during the Revue’s arrest and interrogation being particularly enjoyable. And nobody interjects quite like Luke Maskell. However, I can’t help but single out Tristan Robinson, who regularly had the audience in hysterics even without speaking. His facial expressions were devastating, particularly when he gazed upon some nearby silliness with his perfect, delicate blend of sorrow and reproach. And I will admit that his irate, dance-obsessed turn in ‘Funky Funky Beat’ left me in tears.

Of course, any slivers of individual brilliance do not obscure the fact that the Revue are a team, and a very, very good one at that. Their success last night was ultimately down to collective effort and chemistry. And they displayed that best with show-stopping ensemble moments, including a brilliant, layered a capella musical takeover at a bus stop, and everyone coming together for the dramatic depiction of Andrew Shires’ love story with a certain inanimate object.

Finally, it should be mentioned that amid all the spanking new material, signature Revue touches certainly remained. Their trademark, nattily braced white-and-black outfits, for one. And, of course, the wily selection of song snippets to keep the audience chuckling during transitions (think ‘Suddenly I See’ right after a sketch in an opticians). And, last but by no means least, the inevitable sight of Andrew Shires valiantly fighting giggles mid-sketch. In Shires’ defence, it happened right before the punchline for perhaps the night’s best moment; ‘Titanic’, a thirty-second solo Shires piece that was, on its own, worth the price of admission. And, of course, that involuntary, quivering laugh swiftly sent an already breathless audience into further paroxysms. It was a brilliant, brilliant moment, and certainly a sensational show. The Revue are also on next weekend, for one more performance. Watch it. I’ve exhausted a thesaurus’ worth of synonyms for the word ‘hilarious’, and I’m still not sure I’ve done the show justice. Get tickets while you can!

23 January 2017

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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