first night

One Last Bedtime Story

Kieran Sims reflects on the final showing of the Durham Revue’s “…And Other Stories”


The ‘Returner’s Show’ always promises to be a spectacle of Sketch Comedy. With over 20 Edinburgh performances under their belts, it is the Revue’s most polished, rehearsed and accomplished show of the year. The last of four showings in Durham at 11pm on a Thursday meant the audience were few, but a happy few, brimming with anticipation. It always helps to have the punters on side before you begin, and the Revue definitely capitalised on the home support.
The first 15 minutes were the Revue at their very best. With a stylistic and theatrical opening sketch sucking you in, followed by four hilarious and contrasting sketches: a Mr. Men reunion; Syntax errors at the Daily Mail; Impromptu musical chairs in the office; and the Fresh Prince himself making an appearance. The pace was punchy, the reveals rib-tickling and importantly, the punch-lines were solid, allowing the momentum to continue.
Unfortunately this tailed off as the show went on. Too often the troupe seemed to rely on the awkward pause for laughs. This works well when it is contrasted with dynamic material, such as that in the first quarter, but in the latter half the sketches seemed to slow down, the momentum was lost, and several punch lines sank, killing what was otherwise a good and entertaining sketch.
However, overall I did enjoy the show; there were many more hits than misses. The sketch concerning the origins of Sigmund Freud’s theories was perfect in every way, from the casting, the chemistry, the reveal, the punch line; always hovering around the predictable mark and then quickly slapping the audience in the face with a comedy fish. The chess sketch too has long been a favourite of mine and again I found it difficult to contain myself. The ending did lack its usual punch due to some extended ad-libbing, and I think therein lies the problem.
As a final hurrah, the temptation for the Revue to do this show for themselves seemed at times to be too much to resist. Whilst the enjoyment that the intentional slips and attempts to make each other corpse were evident on the troupes faces, I’m not sure it always translated to the audience. The Revue’s strength has always been in their material and whilst I and several others found it amusing to watch the mask slowly slip, I feel that the show would have been better off for all had they stuck to the script. On the other hand there is a certain privilege to having witnessed the last show and the unique performances that go with that.
What impressed me the most was how much the Revue had improved over the last year. Each member has really grown into their own role within the troupe, and the understanding between them has become very sharp. It is a shame that they cannot continue as a unit for another year. Tom Lyons stood out as one that has really grown into his role, playing the ‘ridiculous straight man’ with subtle ease, although at times his performance lacked the vitality of the other members’ showings. This could not be said of Jez Scharf. His hysterically indignant Tin Tin showed Scharf at his best, using his natural energy to tease laughter out of the audience. It was, however, Scharf who seemed to have been let off the reigns the most in this final show, and whilst some of his antics (the traditional shirt removal for instance) went down a treat, others ground the pace to a halt. Neil Wates and Stevie Martin were on great form. I hate to mention it again, but their performance together in the Freud sketch had me clutching the seat next to me (with laughter). Both kept their energy levels high all the way through the show. Wates always enjoys his punch-line, which leaves the audience chuckling away… even if it is a terrible, terrible pun. Liz Smith has brilliant comedy instincts, and her timing is some of the best within the Revue, however I feel she sometimes falls short of conveying her natural talent onto stage. The Assembly rooms is not an ideal space for comedy, by any means, and many of Smith’s facial expressions would have worked much better in a studio space, but were lost when translated into a theatre auditorium.
As Scharf and Wates move on to pastures new this year there was a touch of melancholy in the final bows, and the cheering for the Revue’s efforts was well deserved. The return of Matt Johnson will be a boon, and I wish the new members of the Revue luck in maintaining and improving upon the standards we have seen.

31 January 2009

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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