By Ben Clark
For one last time, the Durham Revue returned to the hallowed halls of the Assembly Rooms Theatre for a night of irreverent and at times experimental comedy. Sketch after sketch received guffaws galore from an enraptured audience, to the point where members of the award-winning Revue team had only to pull a face in order to elicit a huge reaction from their adoring fans.
It was clear that the troupe’s time at the Edinburgh Fringe had taught them a few things, first and foremost the skill of ending each sketch on a high. In many cases, weaker sketches were saved by a good punchline (the ‘Plague’ sketch being a prime example). Those punchlines were delivered with panache, especially by veterans Andrew Shires and Abigail Weinstock. Luke Maskell’s delivery was also impeccable: his comically lascivious James Bond was one of my personal highlights. Tom Harper, another recent addition, showed his ability especially towards the end of the show with the ‘I’m so sorry mum—I’m Southern’ sketch.
Other sketches that played on the North-South divide went down equally well, such as the hilarious ‘Last Supper’ sketch, in which fights broke out between the disciples about whether they were eating supper, dinner or tea. That sketch ended with Luke Maskell as Jesus reassuring his cheapskate disciples that “Don’t worry—the wine’s free”, a line that was so corny it elicited groans as well as laughs.
The group’s imaginative wit was most evident in the E.T. sketch, which featured the brilliant Andrew Shires (as E.T.) crouched on a chair looking bemused as he was berated by his mum over the phone. The sight of Andrew’s somewhat constipated-looking face caused convulsions among the ever-willing audience, who had been whipped into such a frenzy by this point that almost anything got laughs, even a somewhat questionable sketch revolving around ‘tie’/’Thai’ wordplay. No doubt the Revue team will go on to experience much tougher crowds than this.
That said, the skill with which this troupe of Derek award-winning comics kept their foot on the pedal was in evidence during almost every sketch: scarcely a line went by without a gag to keep the audience doubled over. Perhaps the best example of this was a sketch about the awkwardness of passing an acquaintance in the street, featuring a David Attenborough-style voiceover from the inimitable Tom Harper. Other sketches also provided ample opportunity for quick-fire quips, such as the brilliant ‘Guess Who’ sketch, which involved a version of that well-loved game, this time played using members of the audience. Ambika Mod was asking the difficult questions, such as ‘Is he attractive?’ (later amended to the more pertinent ‘Would I?’) Needless to say most of us sat down at this point.
Audience participation was not the only way in which the Revue set themselves apart from other, more tentative sketch shows: some of their funniest sketches were meta-theatrical, such as the wonderfully imaginative ‘Shots Fired’ sketch, in which the actors were given a script without any context. As you can imagine, their take on the script (lads’ night out) differed completely from that of its author (trench warfare). A bit macabre, but still hilarious.
In short, whilst it would be interesting to see the Revue take on a more challenging crowd, their routine was wide-ranging, well-polished, creative and—most importantly—funny. I for one am excited to see what direction they choose to take next.
Image: Imo Rolfe