By Eleanor Gunn
Four chairs on a stage, dimly lit by a pinkish glow from above. A common place setting, faintly reminiscent of school, yet with some indefinable quality that sets it apart and makes it different.
Six people, dressed in black and white: very normal. Old school braces and the odd brightly coloured sock: different.
This, in effect, seems to be the Durham Revue’s outlook on life. They take something normal, throw a different light on it, and create some quality comedy, to the delight of the audience.
Starring Elgan Alderman, Simon Gallow, David Knowles, Sam Kennerley, Charlotte Whistlecroft, and Abigail Weinstock – and they are definitely all stars – Irrelevant Title is a fantastic evening out, and I thoroughly recommend it to everyone and anyone vaguely near Durham over the next two nights.
Interspersing one-liners amongst more extended sketches, it’s a fast paced show, with slick lighting and well-timed music.
Decisive on and off stage movements (except for that random hand at the start of the Paddington bear sketch) and good use of props show that this cast is professional and familiar with their material, even if it is new.
A perceptive and critical interest in the English language drives many of their sketches, from the ‘visually impaired customer’ sketch (phrases to do with looking) to the ‘assassin’s reappraisal’ sketch (phrases to do with dying), via some brilliantly funny lads. Or was it lords?
Their tendency to create intelligent jokes, without loads of unnecessary swear words, is also demonstrated their high quality one-liners (my favourite has to be ‘I’m excellent at modesty.’).
Cultural references were also thrown at the audience in abundance, although some jokes were slightly too personal or cruel for my liking – especially in the Pavarotti sketch.
However, on the whole, there was an excellent mix of observational comedy, which is often painfully funny, such as the divorce sketch, with surreal pairings of ideas, such as the car radio sketch and the Frosties Tiger babysitter.
These were framed by some wonderfully self-aware sketches, with the cast on stage as themselves, which I felt created a genuine relationship with the audience, preventing the quick succession of sketches from feeling distant, while keeping up much of the performance magic.
Simon Gallow showed his commitment to the performance by always coming on in character, and going off with a lot of energy, even when it was dark and the audience could only see a vague silhouette. Such enthusiastic dedication helped to fill the Assembly Rooms with a buzz of excitement which was sustained throughout the whole show.
David Knowles’s David Attenborough impersonation was terrific, while I noted that Abigail Weinstock’s eyes were at times terrifyingly large, but always comical, as were the range of voices that she employed.
Sam Kennerley started the show exceptionally with his political reporter voice, and his representation of Tony the Tiger (truly, the stuff of nightmares) will stay with me for a long time.
Charlotte Whistlecroft’s characterisation of Trudy and ‘Kiss-Me Kate’ is great, and her stunning last note in the superb Les Misérables finale shows she is a girl of many talents.
Both Abigail and Charlotte were particularly good at avoiding onstage laughter themselves, while inciting audience laughter liberally.
Finally, special mention must go to Elgan Alderman for sheer comic genius, a superb ability to unite physical comedy with verbal comedy, while displaying a hilarious and large array of accents. To top it all, he can sing and dance too. I feel sure he will go far.
The audience loved it, I loved it, and you could sense that the cast loved it too. And at only one hour long, featuring a bear onesie, a tall blue wig, and six talented comedians, this is a show that you really must not miss.
(Unless you hate laughing and don’t want to have fun, in which case, avoid it like the plague.)
Photograph: Emma Werner