first night


Carrie Gaunt sees what Doxbridge's comedy scene has to offer at the Gala Theatre.

I can think of no better way to brighten up a mid-term Sunday than with a constant drip-feed of sketch comedy for a couple of hours at a venue that serves Magnum ice cream. The Durham Revue's Comedyfest, with special guests The Cambridge Footlights and The Oxford Revue, drew in a huge crowd (of presumably like-minded individuals) to the Gala Theatre, and what a treat the evening proved to be.

I feel that comparatively, The Oxford Revue's set was the weakest of the evening, although I will acknowledge that being the opening act for a comedy show in a new venue and city is a terrifying prospect, and that The Oxford Revue could be forgiven for any nerves. Indeed, there was a pervasive sense of discomfort with the space, which meant that the Revue didn't quite seem to have the same ownership of the stage as their counterparts from Cambridge and Durham. In fact, I found myself thinking that a lot of the material would have been more effective in a more intimate setting, which would also have mitigated the issues with projection and clarity—as it is, quite a few lines were muffled. Oxford's sketches tended towards the more narrative and drawn-out, and whilst I felt that their content was generally strong, there was a noticeable tapering off towards the end of some sketches, leading to some weak and lazy punchlines. Nevertheless, this year's Revue clearly have ample talent for comedy writing. The 'doing it' sketches were my personal favourites, and were the first sketches where I really felt like the group were working cohesively and driving each other forward, particularly in their full-bodied embrace of the physical comedy. The Cambridge Footlights, by contrast, presented what felt like a much more polished set. I particularly enjoyed the constant variation in pacing, with quick-fire, snappy sketches interspersed with more narrative scenes. Both were invariably excellent but the shorter sketches in particular were a masterclass in comic timing—'Lap Dance' left me doubled over with laughter for the entire blackout and much of the following sketch.

I'm probably biased, but it is a pleasure to be able to say that The Durham Revue were, for me, the standout troupe of the evening. This was the first time I have seen this year's troupe perform and my only real concern was that, with eight members, the troupe would struggle to ensure that everyone got ample time in the spotlight. I needn't have worried, as the Revue have really capitalised on having more actors to work with. The larger group lends itself perfectly to some more spectacular sketches—‘S Club Seven’ and ‘Bus Stop’ were particularly good uses of the full troupe. In a troupe of this size, you could be forgiven for expecting the odd weak link, but what is lovely about this year's Revue is that everyone works incredibly well together but also brings something unique to the dynamic. However, as ever, I love watching Revue stalwarts Andrew Shires and Ambika Mod. Shires has completely embraced the mantel of provider-of-zany-comedy and by God does he do it well. He is, quite simply, a natural performer, and I love that his writing style is becoming more and more recognisable and iconic. Mod has a calmer stage presence than many of her other troupe members and a more controlled energy, which gives her a natural authority on stage. Revue-newbies (revuebies?) Bróccán Tyzack-Carlin and Lily Edwards also more than held their own among their more seasoned contemporaries—it was a pleasure to watch them fit so comfortably into the group and I look forward to seeing them develop as the year continues.

I always enjoy watching The Durham Revue because of how much attention is lavished on the finer details and here again the Revue showed a meticulousness that Oxbridge lacked. The uniformity of costumes, the clever music choices (which almost felt like an extension of the punchline), and the slick scene changes gave an overall aura of professionalism and smoothness which translated to and enhanced the performances. I also particularly enjoyed the Revue's innovative use of the space and readiness to break the fourth wall—I think my favourite sketch of the whole evening was 'Improvised Comedy', featuring Andrew Shires shouting suggestions from the stalls.

Comedyfest left me with everything I was hoping for—a stomach aching from laughing so hard and a massive smile on my face. The Durham Revue continue to go from strength to strength, and should be incredibly proud of themselves for dominating the Gala Theatre. With such strong new material to take on their upcoming tours to Oxford and Cambridge, I am confident they'll continue to provide standout performances over the next couple of months. 

20 February 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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