Review: Durham Revue: All Stars

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For their final Gala performance of the year, the current Durham Revue troupe launched a blast from the past, and not just because of the Guy Fawkes sketch. Durham Revue: All Stars featured comedians from years past (the 2021 and 2022 troupes specifically) donning their black suspenders once more and performing the best sketches from their respective years. For those of us who have had the pleasure of watching the 2021/22 troupes during their heyday, this formula proved delightfully nostalgic. For newcomers, the show boasted a lineage of comedic excellence that this year’s troupe must uphold (and, no doubt, will uphold) in their upcoming month-long stint at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Either way, the All Stars idea was a clever one. Despite some sadly distracting technical problems and minor pacing issues, Durham Revue: All Stars was bolstered by three years’ worth of irreverent, borderline-absurd humour, delivering an undeniable blockbuster of sketch comedy.

The first laugh of the night was not the result of a costume or a well-timed punchline, but rather from a blackout and a faulty projector. If such a malfunction opened a three-act tragedy or a hard-hitting drama, then it might have marred the rest of the night. Thankfully, the pretext of a knowingly unserious sketch comedy show simply made it into a funny, unintentional beginning skit. After the interval and presumably some tech-team miracle working, the audience would discover that the show was supposed to begin with an ‘Avengers Assemble’ parody showing the expanded cast of comedians answering the call to return to Durham for one more show. If all had gone well, the video would have set the scene marvellously. Sadly, small technical issues would continue to pervade the night, most noticeably in sketches that relied on sharp lighting changes such as an otherwise-hilarious parody of WWII melodrama and a raunchy sketch showing ‘deleted scenes’ from the film, Avatar. The fact that the performers were not microphoned also undercut some of the timing: while lines were mostly well-projected, some were lamentably lost.

The returning troupes have evidently not lost their touch

Still, the cast – returners and current members alike – displayed applaudable professionalism and maintained high energy throughout. The returning troupes have evidently not lost their touch, and the 2021 cast in particular boasted some spectacular performances. was a stand-out with a fantastic Mr Tumble impression, however excellent comedians are only half of what make a great troupe, and Gwilliam displayed the crucial ability to pare back when required and let another performer shine. has a dry, sardonic style which worked very well in the ‘Chicken Hat’ sketch – a sketch about a misplaced chicken hat – and made his hammier moments more effective. Tansy Adam, was also a versatile comic who ably played a beleaguered doctor delivering the baby of a couple who are trying to hold out for midnight so as not to give birth to a Libra (fair enough), as well as a hilariously psychotic impression of Mario giving a unique driving lesson, playing well off of as the horrified driver. 

Booker, as part of the 2022 troupe’s set, is excellent as a twisted version of Mary Poppins. Joining the 2022 troupe was and Marc Twinn, both able and talented comics. Rees’ absurd ‘Meatball’ game show sketch – complete with Italian accent – nicely bookended the set, and Twinn displayed a remarkable knack for physical comedy, launching himself into the air with the force of a ballerina on several occasions. Some sketches were weaker than others – such as a skit that brings the Nancy Sinatra song, ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin’, to life with a pair of sentient shoes – and slight pacing issues somewhat interrupted the comedic rhythm. These are small criticisms, though, of a well-rounded cast who still had the chemistry, skill, and muscle-memory to deliver a series of wickedly hilarious sketches.

In between sets, Taylor and provided a welcome break from the wacky sketch comedy to deliver some stand-up. Taylor, once again employing a deadpan, snarky charm, listed the reasons he was a loser. While not a groundbreaking subject choice for a male comedian, Taylor provided a low-key, conversational alternative to the troupes’ high-octane skits and satires. Simmonds, displaying a canny flair for crowd work (‘You look vulnerable!’ He would say before selecting an audience member to torment), roleplayed his coming-out by handing a series of prompts to an unlucky front-row viewer. His provocative comedic style occasionally bordered on gratuitous but was rescued by an effortless charisma and affable self-deprecation. The current revue troupe took over for the second half of the show and showed off a promising, polished set for what will certainly be a successful Fringe run. Over the year, the troupe has evidently refined a camaraderie and strong chemistry that carries the sketches and permits the actors to ably flit from wacky to droll, and deadpan to literally dead in some cases. Also, they bear a striking resemblance to the Scooby Gang which is gratefully taken advantage of in an uproariously dark pastiche of the show.

Over the year, the troupe has evidently refined a camaraderie and strong chemistry that carries the sketches

Fittingly, each troupe member had a chance to show off and play to their strengths. Jay Robinson, a confident and charismatic performer, demonstrates an impressive proficiency for accents which was wisely foregrounded as often as possible. This culminated in a sketch which relies almost entirely on Robinson and his hilariously bizarre Harry Houdini caricature, ‘hypnotising’ a selected audience member and deftly improvising when necessary. was also a delight. While her passive-aggressive character from previous Revue shows, Valencia, was sorely missed, her turn as a kindly elderly woman who moonlights as a drug kingpin was fantastic. shared the role of ‘Resident Physical Comedian’ with Twinn, most obviously in her riotous impression of Voldemort trying and failing to duel with Twinn’s giggly Harry Potter. also boasted fine comedic instincts (and his impressive height was naturally used for a gag or two), although I would have liked to have seen more of him. Alannah O’Hare threatened to steal the show with her Brian Cox impersonation, slowly stalking on stage with a wide grin, a black wig, and a campy Mancunian accent. O’Hare possessed truly professional comic timing and her character’s catchphrase – ‘… It’s not actually!’ – was lovingly repeated at length by audience members as they left the theatre.

The Durham Revue’s All Stars showcase achieved an impressive double-act, with the charming chemistry and nostalgia-factor of the ‘Stars’ in question, giving way to a sneak peek at what this year’s troupe have in store for Fringe. Overall, I’m pleased to report that the show was a resounding success – boasting superbly written sketches, some truly virtuosic performances and maintaining the society’s intimidatingly strong reputation. The admittedly frequent technical problems were expertly turned into merely another joke in the set, and the sight of castmates reunited after years lent a warm tone to a night of often bitingly dark humour. If you find yourself in Edinburgh over the summer, be sure to make time among the dizzying array of shows for the Durham Revue. I have no doubt that any one of the performers onstage on Saturday night could, in a few years time, find themselves among the pantheon of successful, prestigious Revue alumni.

Image credit: The Durham Revue

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