By Ben Summer
Zeitgeist is an hour of the very best Fringe theatre, wrapped up into a familiarly fast-paced package, and so blisteringly quick with its humour that the audience is completely drawn in, yet doesn’t have a chance to catch its breath.
Back from Edinburgh, with the echoes of rave reviews and packed crowds still ringing in its ears, the Revue always proves a popular staple of the Durham student calendar, and this year was no different, with a completely sold-out Collingwood Theatre cackling with laughter for the duration.
This year’s show offers a pleasingly simple concept to its audience – one hour of sketches. That’s it. This had the potential to fall horrifically flat, but the comedy is hurled at the audience at such breakneck speeds that it simply doesn’t have time to feel stale.
From the very start, it feels familiar to any Fringe-goer, with each sketch book-ended by roaring pop music and improvised dance routines. The brilliantly talented cast have down to a fine art the ability to deliver a punchline with both absolute precision and boundless energy – yet very few of the scenes have just one punchline; instead, a blistering array of back-and-forth banter, cheeky asides to the audience, and even facial expressions so finely tuned as to get some of the biggest laughs of the night.
The sketches are beautifully varied, stacking a physical representation of Winter Olympic diving (think about it) up next to observations on politics, current affairs, and trashy Channel 5 makeover shows. Some fall flatter than others, with the now-familiar “did you just assume their gender” jokes chucked in for good measure, but the pace of the show is so relentless that this hardly matters – the next scene is well underway before the pace even begins to let up.
In typical Fringe fashion, the set just about consists of four chairs and a few household items – the tech brains behind the show clearly knew what they were doing, utilising Collingwood’s fancy lighting setup to subtly effective ends.
However, the cast is very much at the forefront – and what a cast. The components of every good sketch troupe are here, riffing off each other in a well-oiled machine of comedy – with Tristan Robinson leaping effortlessly between a Ricky Gervais-esque narcissist and a hilariously sombre lute player, and Luke Maskell delivering a shiny, cocky, oddly sexual array of exclamations to the audience on more than one occasion. Every cast member knows their niche, and pushes its boundaries to the limit – although some, admittedly, stand out more than others.
Perhaps the crowning glory of the show is when two reluctant audience members are dragged out onto the stage. The bones of the scene are well-known, but this take on the typical embarrassment of random strangers serves as a metaphor for the whole show – a concept that could seem aged and overused, brought to life by the pitch-perfect wit of a superb cast (and the presence of a descant recorder).
I wish I could articulate every brilliantly weird moment of this show, but to do so would discredit a near-perfectly assembled hour of entertainment. On paper, it’s been done before; it’s dated, crass even. Admittedly, it’s not flawless – it’s not pushing many boundaries, for sure, but does what it sets out to do, and better than most of its peers. It manages both the manic frenzy of the best of Fringe shows, with the sharply timed wit of something far more refined. From a troupe that has given the comedy world Ed Gamble and Nish Kumar, this cast is bound to follow in their footsteps.
Photograph: Durham Review