first night

Durham Revue Returner's Show: 33rd Annual Surprise Party

Joe Leather revels in the wordplay of doing the Revue Review

No Surprises: One Hell of a Party.

Before this review begins, a small confession. Despite being about to go into my third year of study at Durham, this Thursday marked my first time seeing the Durham Revue ever. In fact, on this evening of the ‘The Durham Revue Returners Show: 33rd Annual Surprise Party’ I embarked on what seemed to be an evening of firsts. Not only was it my first Revue viewing, but it also marked the group’s first performance without Alina Gregory (who was on her year abroad) with other Revue veteran Gilbert Gregory (No relation) stepping in for the first time since before the Revue’s Edinburgh show. As if that wasn’t enough, the Assembly Rooms have started selling cupcakes. That’s a new one.

Of course, shameless plug aside I had heard a lot about the Durham Revue show and so was excited to see what the group had to offer. The troupe is currently made up of 6 members: Harry Bresslaw, Tessa Coates, Gilbert Gregory, David Head, Stephanie Jones and Fergus Leathem. They had a highly successful year last year, following critically acclaimed runs in The Assembly Rooms, The Gala Theatre and at the Edinburgh Fringe. I remember reading one Oxbridge-educated reviewer who admitted they had outperformed both the Oxford Revue and Cambridge footlights when on tour; whilst another reviewer guaranteed you would leave with a ‘spring in your step’. Clearly, then, I went in with high expectations and the Durham Revue did not disappoint.

The show began with an ensemble sketch which a few of our more misogynistic Durham-ites can probably identify with; involving elements of the psyche advising a man (Head) on whether it was worth continuing a boring date for the sake of some casual sex. The cast soon began splitting off into smaller scenes with favourites including Mr (Leathem) and Mrs Beaver (Coates) in a subverted version of the Narnia tale and multiple failed takes by Robbie Coltrane (Bresslaw) in the first Harry Potter movie. The immediate ‘surprise’ of the party was David Head. Head demonstrated immense flair for comedic physicality, and had the audience in stitches through an impressive array of roles, from serial killer to romantic lead.

Once the show was in full swing, we were treated to scenes ranging from the highly intellectual: ‘The Only Way is Wessex’ and cloaked references to Peter Shaffer’s ‘Equus’ and Shakespeare’s ‘A Winter’s Tale’; to puerile humour at its absolute best with the Fax/Facts Machine (Gregory) having both the audience and half the cast in hysterics. Time and time again as the show progressed I found my attention being drawn to Tessa Coates; not only in her scene-stealing role as a French ballet teacher but also in the way she contributed more subtly to each and every skit on-stage. Effortlessly funny, Coates was a veritable explosion of comedic timing with each new offering accompanied by a seamless change in accent that left me at times wondering where she was actually from.

The entire cast were very strong, presumably helped by having had such a successful run at the Fringe; and there were moments during the evening where each of them shone. Harry Bresslaw exuded energy and transcended both social norms and gender barriers in his quest to make the audience laugh. Fergus Leathem worked beautifully in whatever double-act he was thrust into; indeed, the fact all the cast members clearly so enjoyed acting alongside each other was a pleasure to watch, Bresslaw and Leathem making an especially successful duo in a sketch about Evelyn Waugh.

Gilbert Gregory and Stephanie Jones had a slightly tougher job during the performance as their roles were less prominent, but both showed real comedic talent. Jones was an incredibly likeable performer who gave mountains to every scene she was in, particularly as Sandra, a woman coping with the fact her stalker (Head) had moved on and found someone new. Gregory’s humour was infectious; spreading beyond the audience and making the cast laugh too, whilst he was reliably funny in a stock upper-class role. As these two are clearly very capable comedians, I really look forward to seeing them taking more proactive roles in the coming year as occasionally there seemed to be a tendency to rely on jibes against the performers when in fact both Jones and Gregory are clearly competent and intelligent comics.

Like any Revue, there were sketches that were hilarious and there were those that fell slightly flat. Still it was clear that amongst an audience made up of die-hard Revue fans who had already seen the Edinburgh show and enthusiastic Freshers who were attending their first Assembly Rooms performance everyone was enjoying the comedy that the Revue had to offer. The set flew by, though it was by no means too short, and before I knew it, it was already time to go. And I left with ‘a spring in my step’.

If you are interested in an evening of laughter and merriment, where you can still be out in time to hit a few bars afterwards I could not recommend “The Durham Revue Returners Show: 33rd Annual Surprise Party” highly enough. This is student comedy at its absolute best with a highly-talented cast who clearly love what they’re doing and really respect each other as a troupe. In fact, as I left the theatre I overheard one of the producers saying the Revue plan on tweaking their set for tomorrow and adding two new sketches. I might have to go and give it a re-view. Review. Revue. There must be a pun here somewhere.

Joe Leather

18 October 2011

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.
Our theatre that speaks for itself

DST is proud to be supported by: PwC