By Kathryn Tann
In little room in Johns, sitting around on chesterfields and having a chuckle, I find the 2017-18 Durham Revue troupe. For this lot, the first week back means holding rehearsals all day, every day, for their upcoming sketch show No Strings Attached. But spirits are contagiously jolly. They get straight to work on reading through a sketch, and it’s not long before I’m abandoning my pen to laughter.
Each year, the most defining aspect of The Durham Revue is that everyone’s a writer. I asked the group what sort of process each sketch goes through before we see it on stage, and it soon became clear that it’s certainly not as simple as one person writing a script and everyone else acting it out. Tristan Robinson sums it up when he says that this year “everything’s a group effort, and everything has a little flavour of everyone sort of boiled down into it.” Lily Edward agrees – although one person might write the original script for a piece, by the time it’s on stage, “every single person has contributed”.
Just by watching one short rehearsal, it was obvious that this was the case. The cast would work from an existing script but collaborate in adapting it to performance. Unafraid to question their own work, make suggestions, go back and improve ideas – there’s no wonder the finished article is usually such a success. And far from being a matter of ‘too many cooks spoiling the broth’, the process seems to work well, being as it is; based on an understanding that every member of the group has valid points to make. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it happen.
This year, The Durham Revue has welcomed five shiny new members to the team. With all this change, I asked what we should be expecting from the troupe in the coming months. Luke Maskell tells us that ‘there might be a few more risks this year. Although I feel like we might have said that last year. So I think the show is getting riskier every year…’ With plenty of noises of agreement, the group seem to think that risky is good, and that playing it too safe wouldn’t be as successful anymore. ‘Another huge difference is that we are expanding,’ Luke adds. ‘We’ve now got Sam, in a sort of writer-only position, and Tom is Technical Manager, and now has his own technical team.’
In anticipation of the first performance on Sunday, I also asked everyone if they had any favourite sketches that the audience should look forward to. A few suggestions were made, and then a few more enthusiastically added, until almost every sketch in the line-up had been mentioned. This surely bodes well.
And why should everyone come to see No Strings Attached? Lily says, “Because otherwise, we’d be performing it to no one… and that would be really sad.”
In all seriousness, Durham Revue’s next show promises to be more than worth the ticket price. As Luke confidently puts it, not only will the evening be one of laughter, but it will also be something “different”. And I’ve been guaranteed that it will be a completely academia-free zone.
Photograph: Gregor Petrikovič