Review: The Durham Revue Presents: ‘You Only Laugh Twice’

By George Simms

Rating: 5 out of 5.

With student theatre, it’s often incredibly hard to know what to expect when the house lights go down. The Revue’s reputation long precedes it, with alumni Jeremy Vine, Nish Kumar and Ed Gamble’s names never too far from its advertising. Yet, still, I was utterly taken aback by quite how much I enjoyed the Durham Revue’s ‘You Only Laugh Twice’.

Having revealed that they would spend the next hour auditioning to be James Bond, the Revue’s six young stars thoroughly shook and stirred the audience at the Mark Hillery Arts Centre. To say that the performance matched the writing is a huge compliment to them both. 

The gags toed the line without crossing it and utilised colourful language as it should be, as comedic potpourri. Whether bare-faced pun or intricately crafted sketch, no-one was safe. The tech guy, Love Island, Piers Morgan, anyone with the star sign Libra, and Shakespeare all got it firmly in the neck.  

Bar a chicken hat, an axe and a fake baby, the performance was centred around four chairs and the six performers. It was sketch comedy without frills, carried by vim and vigour rather than pomp and circumstance. There really wasn’t a dull moment throughout, with carefully selected music between each scene keeping the energy high and adding an extra layer to the sketch we’d just seen.

Taylor’s natural charm and confidence saw him dominate most sketches he was in

The link to Bond was slightly forced or tenuous at the top and bottom of the show, yet and co-President Daisy Hargreaves’ interlude to run each other through their prospective Bond scripts more than made up for it. Taylor’s natural charm and confidence saw him dominate most sketches he was in. He was also incredibly adept at breaking and playing with the fourth wall, whether as Bond, Dracula, or a woman on a hen night. 

Back in the Revue after a year out, is the archetype of a comedic straight man. The constant look of deadpan bafflement etched across his face, as if to ask the audience ‘how on earth could you find this funny’, adds a wonderful layer to every sketch he’s in. Whether trying to deliver the punniest of punchlines or style out a rather fetching chicken hat, Howat’s performance was a perfect example of how less can so often be more in comedy. 

is the Revue’s answer to the Tasmanian devil

In perfect contrast to Howat, newcomer is the Revue’s answer to the Tasmanian Devil. A pint-sized ball of energy, she launches herself across the stage with such confidence that you really couldn’t look away. For someone so small to have such incredible stage presence is no mean feat, but her physical performance makes her feel ten feet tall. Her Gollum was a highlight of the evening, with her wonderfully expressive face and excellent use of physical comedy a real treat.

Talking of wonderfully expressive faces, looked at times like he had more muscles in his face alone than most of us have in our whole bodies. In probably the best-received sketch of the night, his performance as CBBC’s Barney Harwood is really one for the Revue’s history books.

Hargreaves’ eyes can carry a sketch on their own

is a Revue staple, with the co-President showing great versatility to add depth and colour to sketches without needing to take a starring role. Her eyes can carry a sketch on their own and this vision in a bleached-blonde mullet was often tasked with building the tension for her peers to break.

As with Hargreaves, didn’t always get the best lines, but made the most of everything put in front of her. Her face lends itself to anger and disdain brilliantly, with one of Durham’s finest withering or menacing glares. 

Whilst Chicken Run’s Mrs Tweedy may not be every little girl’s dream role, she played an axe-wielding, chicken-hungry battleaxe with nothing less than aplomb. Pinter got her starring moment towards the end, pulling off a series of truly terrible Cheese-related puns. It must have taken great Emmenthal fortitude to keep a straight face. See, two can play at that game. 

The front row was not for the faint-hearted, as two audience members were dragged into sketches. Bob and Ollie toyed with their victims without it feeling mean, and both James and George made great temporary additions to the Revue. 

Co-President returns as a writer, alongside Jack Simmonds, and the Revue is clearly very well off for it. The writing is a team effort, split across all performers and writers, which just shows the quite unbelievable level of talent that they have at their disposal. The writing is incredibly sharp and deft, with sketches just the right length and jam-packed with witty gags. 

I’d say buy your tickets for tonight’s performance now, but you can’t, because it’s sold out. If one comes up, buy it, and if not, keep an eye out for future performances by this incredibly talented group. There will be at least one big name to come out of this cohort, but there could just as easily be eight. 

One thing I can promise is that you won’t only laugh twice.

Image credit: The Durham Revue

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