The Durham Revue's 33rd Annual Surprise Party!

Thu 4th – Sun 28th August 2011

reviews

Jade Symons

at 09:52 on 29th Aug 2011

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I’m not the world’s biggest fan of sketch shows, so I was, I’ll admit, more than a little dubious about “The Durham Revue’s 33rd Annual Surprise Party!”.

And, whilst I didn’t find it groundbreakingly funny, they did raise a fair few laughs out of me throughout the performance - which is more than Monty Python or A Bit of Fry and Laurie has ever managed to do.

I took this to be a good sign - alongside the fact that many of the audience seemed to be on the verge of wetting themselves for much of the time. Indeed, at one point I turned to my neighbour with concern, because he sounded like he was having an asthma attack.

I generally found the shorter sketches more amusing and entertaining , some of the longer ones seemed to drag on a little - and I know I wasn’t entirely alone in that opinion, as the end of the “train” sketch drew groans, not laughs, from the audience.

Parts of the show made me feel a little unintelligent, as knowledge of certain aspects of culture and history was required for most of the jokes to make their full impact. But, for the considerable portion of the audience who were suitably clued up, the performance was very funny indeed.

For me, the funniest moments came from a recurring theme (which I don’t wish to spoil), popping up in a series of very short, very amusing sketches - little vignettes of comedy, if you will.

The performers were all enthusiastic and were clearly enjoying themselves, which resulted in a wonderfully vibrant show.

Some of the other audience members may consider me to be something of a philistine, for my lack of love for sketch shows in general. But, whilst “The Durham Revue” didn’t exactly have me rolling in the aisles, they were entertaining, and it was plain to see that if comedy shows are your bag, it’s well worth a watch.

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Pat Massey

at 12:21 on 29th Aug 2011

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Even if you don't 'attend' sketch shows, you've seen 'Dead Ringers' and its ilk. Where the average man might fail to find parallels to Ionesco, he will have a surfeit of skits with which to compare a given sketch. The onus on the Durham Revue, then, is to keep the revue format vitalized: make it new.

Certain tropes are unavoidable to the revue format. A recurring skit is based around homonymic war puns; the villains of a disaster film are naturally Soviets... Core ideas, as in all art forms, are recycled. The Revue, however, spruces these concepts up with original contexts. So an ordinary train is belatedly revealed to be en-route to Hogwarts: a revelation which changes the crux of the sketch's humour. Whilst random humour is nothing new, the Revue finds new iterations. Kevin Bacon comes in for flak from somewhere other than his cult 'Six Degrees' game. Indeed, there are occasional genius breakthroughs into (relatively) original territory. Whoever identified the flaw in the idea of falling on one's sword scored a home run. Never are the Pythonesque or the obtuse allowed to dominate, condemning the Revue to the student sketch show stereotype. Different styles of humour are held in balance.

The cast here is a well-balanced line-up. Each inhabits a crucial 'role': the straight (wo)man, the one with glasses, the oddball character one... Often in sketch shows certain actors perform together, creating a hierarchy whereby the likeability of the cast of a given sketch determines its reception rather than its quality. By varying its onstage combinations, the Revue circumvents this problem and explores all its chemistries. It is a shame that the majority of these performers will no longer perform with the Revue, but I suspect David Head's ability to make streams of invective appear off-the-cuff is de mode enough to help him make a name. Ditto Tessa Coates' general talent, going from the straight-laced to the outlandish without faltering at or between these extremes.

The show's tight-craftedness is further evinced in the little things: the most finger-clicking soundtrack outside a jazz revue; the inter-sketch references culminating in a meta Christmas scene: a logical narrative and temporal progression, of sorts. In the hierarchy of sketch comedy, the Durham Revue's variety, coherency and consistency places it at a very respectable level.

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