By Nicole Wu
Durham’s biggest sketch comedy troupe are back for their annual Gala show – this year they were joined by the esteemed Leeds Tealights and Cambridge Footlights. Furthermore, £1 of each ticket sold for the show was donated to the Durham Branch of the Trussell Trust.
The reputation held by these juggernauts of student sketch comedy precedes them – combined alumni include: Olivia Coleman, Ed Gamble, Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson and Nish Kumar. Being in the troupe’s safe hands, the packed auditorium settled in quickly and the atmosphere bristled with anticipation, knowing that we were about to be treated to a night of rapid wit and energetic comedy.
The Durham Revue writers, and our compères for the night, Jack Simmonds and Teagan Booker delightfully whet the audience’s appetites with their opening act – their quick comedy roasts and deliberate teases of a sketch performance gave a brief taste of what was to come. Being able to witness a little of the dynamics and creative genius behind the troupe gave the show a keener structure and greater emphasis on the collaborative and creative aspect of sketch comedy that can so easily be underappreciated and lost within absurdity.
The Leeds Tealights
The Leeds Tealights were first to hit the stage – it is no understatement to say that every single sketch from the Leeds team caused the audience to erupt into laughter. They opened with the most electrifying scene of a biscuit-obsession intervention and launched into a whole host of interesting situations including: a thought-by-thought description of JKF’s assassination, the Pope performing at Eurovision representing Vatican City and intimacy workshops for a role in Wind in the Willows.
Callum Robertson deserves commendation simply for the best Princess Diana impression that I’ve ever seen – complete with her charmingly meek movements and tight-lipped breathy voice the audience knew exactly who we were looking at even before she called after Charles. He also deserves praise for attempting to complete a solo acapella rendition of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ during the well-timed roaring shrieks of laughter from a particularly invested and vocal audience member.
A reoccurring Nanny McPhee, played by the talented Phoebe Graham, was a welcome addition to already absurd scenarios and brought huge laughter from her rapid yet surprisingly eloquently enunciated “if you want me then I must leave” spiels. There was a perfect balance of quick one-off sketches but also recurring jokes that had the audience laughing as soon as the character entered on stage.
The creativity and dynamism of the team’s work was incredible to watch. Mallachy O’Callaghan’s straight-faced impersonation of the Pope’s lyrical players and mutterings about representing the Vatican at Eurovision was a sight to behold and Alice Walker played the greatest Valley Girl Bridezilla I could have imagined. Tealight president Ellen Hardy had some of the strongest scenes including a hilarious stand-off between the Leeds Sound Effect society and Physical Theatre Society. An honourable mention must also go to the tech team for their exemplary timing which was so key to the sketches.
The Cambridge Footlights
Described by Simmonds and Booker as a troupe with “the same flair but slightly more academic talent”, The Cambridge Footlights were programmed next, with their members kitted out in orange prison jumpsuits. All the sketches were tied together with a cops and robbers kind of theme including a kinky emergency call receiver, investigator Hercules Poirot and pirates learning about pirating films.
Having just followed the energetic wit of the Tealights, it was always going to be difficult to impress. The Footlights troupe were more reliant on long-form content and slow-burn comedy. One of their sketches was a spin-off of Take Me Out, to find the murderer of the character’s brother, featuring an obsessive ‘nice guy’ character, a painfully awkward and nervous suspect and the unwavering, disturbing stares of the third interviewee. The actors did an incredible job of truly embodying their characters to the highest degree and the audience enjoyed the recognisable yet satirised content of the popular TV show.
Whilst the sketches garnered the chuckles of the audience, they had a tendency to feel lengthy and unsubstantiated. The comedy felt cordoned off by the crime theme as all sketches related to the overall theme in some way – perhaps more creative freedom was required with the writing and therefore the performing too, in order for there to be be less repetition. Some of the comedy felt too reliant on dad jokes or physical comedy that resulted in a cast member being stabbed dramatically on stage.
Certainly there were entertaining moments and the continued reminder to not sit on the front row of a sketch comedy show – an unlucky audience member was yelled at, sworn at and essentially kidnapped to the wings of the stage. They returned later in the show, bag over head, as a criminal suspect – this provided some huge amusement to their friends and the crowd too. Special mention must however go to Rory and Scribbles the puppet for the most unhinged and dedicated performance of a horror movie scene featuring a possessed inanimate object.
The Durham Revue
Refreshed by the interval – returning to the Durham Revue’s sketches felt like arriving home safely after a long time sailing at sea. The troupe absolutely did not disappoint. The show was filled with all the sharp jokes, unreserved characters and creative scripting that we have learnt to expect from this professional team. Having seen their show in January, it was a delight to see how my favourite sketches from the previous show had progressed and I was hugely impressed by the amount of new content added to the show.
The enthusiasm of the Revue is absolutely non-stop from the beginning of the introductions, right through to the closing bows. Their charisma and boundless energy as a troupe is simply unrivalled. Using an upbeat combination of cracking one-line sketches and longer-form scenes, the audience has no option but to be enthralled in the wild journey with the Revue.
Tansy Adam’s phenomenal ability to uncannily re-enact loved childhood character is hilarious: both her outbursts as the fed-up partner in The Owl and the Pussycat alongside Teilo Rees’ haplessly oblivious character, and chaotic confidence as Peppa Pig are masterful in mimicking voice and mannerisms. Freya Reynolds plays an excellent zombie-apocalypse TV shopping channel host and is able to hold a simple calmness during her performances that is hugely commendable.
Leah Pinter is a professional at holding the attention and conducting the feeling of the performance – in her highlight performance, she single-handedly forces not only audience participation from yet another unsuspecting front row member but orchestrated the entire audience to engage in the most uncomfortable rendition of ‘Old MacDonald had a Farm.’ Her witty improvisations and awareness of the audience’s reactions whilst also keeping the scene moving were hugely impressive.
Other notable mentions include the revamped version of a hilarious Spartacus joke, another audience participation part during a quiz show that was derailed by the hosting unloving married couple, the Chuckle brother becoming hitmen and an exuberant performance from Marc Twinn’s and his mysterious, deadly boots. Henry Gwilliam is a natural physical theatre comedian, playing a massive variety of roles expertly from a houseplant to a fuckboy ghost.
Whilst the entire set hit the mark, the most memorable joke had to be the “hey, is that a meatball” gag – as it is too unfunny to explain, you’ll simply have to see it next time the Durham Revue have a show on!
Image credit: The Durham Revue