By Simon Fearn
Fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe, the Durham Revue take their sketch show Cirque du Sillý back home for one night only. The swansong of the 2014/15 Revue may have been hampered by a man down (Mike Bedigan was swapped for Matt Kemp) and a few technical problems, but nevertheless the troupe’s brand of irreverent, surrealist comedy almost always hit the spot.
The Revue have a huge debt to Monty Python, and their sketches on societies for proverb-lovers and pedants come from the same area of the imagination as ‘The Ministry of Silly Walks’ and ‘The Argument Clinic’. Unlike Python though, the Revue are not so wildly inventive. Parodies of Jane Austen and spoofs of breakfast shows are hardly virgin territory for sketch shows, but on the whole these well-trodden ideas were brilliantly executed. A man with an uncontrollable fetish for cheese hardly sounds like comedy gold, but David Knowles’s particular brand of orgasm made it a resounding success.
On the whole, the group’s performances far exceeded their original sketches. Ambika Mod’s deadened expression as a malfunctioning domestic robot was hilarious, whilst Andrew Shires excelled with his look of glee as he faced the guillotine. Meanwhile, Knowles was fantastic as both a gesticulating archaeologist and a drab Willy Wonka. Some of the funniest scenes were the most minimalistic, such as the utterly fabulous Society for the Socially Awkward, which was essentially just a freeze frame of the Revue pulling silly facial expressions. By the same token, the opening sketch, a ballet lift fudged due to Charlotte Whistlecroft being ‘too heavy’, was perfect until it was followed up with some less than convincing dialogue.
The Revue’s chemistry is also what sets them apart, and it’s easy to see that they have immensely enjoyed performing together for a year. The moments when they were all on stage together were triumphant, whilst in the smaller scenes Shires and Knowles were a particularly good pairing. Even when the sketches weren’t quite up to par, such as a strangely conceived time travel narrative, the troupe’s comic timing and repartee made it compelling.
When the group nailed a punchline, the result was electric, but often the final joke fell flat, or sometimes failed to receive the laughter it warranted due to rushed delivery. Some of the sketches should have by right been very funny, like the gags about female comedians taking supporting roles to make room for men’s egos, but for some reason didn’t work on the night. Despite being mostly enjoyably unspecific, the best reactions from the audience came when the sketches became slightly edgier. Jokes about Nazis and religious intolerance went down a treat. This proved to be a double-edged sword however. A sketch focusing on the sinking of the Titanic through the lens of modern gender politics was undoubtedly well meaning, but came dangerously close to mocking feminists and transgender individuals.
This was, happily, only a minor glitch. The packed auditorium and the liberal amounts of laughter ensured that the evening could not fail to be a success. Although some of the sketches did fall flat, they were quickly followed up with more successful ones, and hardly impacted on the audience’s enjoyment. It is with a certain sadness that we wave goodbye to the latest incarnation of the Durham Revue, but with auditions for new members just around the corner, it’s interesting to think where this injection of new talent will take the Revue.
Image: Imo Rolfe