Durham Revue: Friends Without Benefits

Thu 1st – Sun 25th August 2013

reviews

Jazz Adamson

at 18:05 on 9th Aug 2013

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When the Durham Revue ran onstage to ‘Eye of the Tiger’, the audience held its collective breath: this was a moment when it was clear the show could swing either towards an unoriginal and plodding charade or a self-aware comedy. In fact, it was a bit of both, and the high standard of acting made it a fun, worthwhile production to see.

Dressed in black skirts or trousers, white shirts and black braces, the Revue looked professional but eccentric; a look that was reminiscent of the earliest sketch comics with their rolled-up shirt sleeves and earnest expressions. The matching attire strengthened the sense of an ensemble, the repartee between them, the bouncing back and forth of punch lines. Unfortunately some of these fell flat, and a few sketches were weak: the two sketches of policemen exchanging puns on the idiosyncrasies of the English language failed to amuse.

It is also the case that several good sketches were undermined by their ‘punch lines’ – for example, the sketch about a woman claiming a baby as hers by using the ‘5 second rule’ was funny enough without claiming the obvious, “I stole him”. There was a funny sketch where a woman called Mary gives birth to a lamb: the acting made this amusing enough without the hackneyed punch line from the husband referencing the tiresome cliché that Welsh people shag sheep.

However, the show developed tremendously. While there may not have been belly laughs, the performance improved as it warmed up and several sketches were very funny – the whole audience seemed to agree that the confusing of Neil Armstrong and Lance Armstrong with Louis Armstrong was a great gag. The Mr Men book review and the cheating husband scenes were particular highlights, as was the emergence of the character ‘Boris’, performed wonderfully by Sam Kennerley, who remained consistently excellent playing each character. Actually, all the actors were very good, showing the capability to actualize a variety of roles – an otherwise unfunny sketch concerning two women in the hairdressers was made entertaining by their convincing accents and intonations.

Between each sketch was a short blast of music with lyrics relevant to the previous joke; the Revue had obviously thought long and hard about which songs to pick and it worked really well, serving to elongate and back up the sketch it followed. This is quite a vital element of the production, since without the music it could be merely a string of good but unoriginal sketches. As it is, the Durham Revue managed to pull off an entertaining hour-long show that had people laughing throughout.

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Theodora Hawlin

at 09:31 on 10th Aug 2013

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‘This year for Lent I’ve decided to give up punch lines’, a statement that rings all too true for the shaky start of Durham Revue’s latest show. However, stick with this confused collection and you’ll warm to it. The comedy is varied, in both subject matter and style, but it’s an enjoyable mix with comforting motifs that rise throughout. All five performers hold their own and shine in an abundance of different roles. Sam Kennerley in particular shows fabulous variety, from a sadistic school teacher, an infamous but unexplained Boris, to a live and chocolate covered moose. His multiple military roles - ‘Private Parts’, ‘Martial Arts’ - a testimony to the kind of word play that defines this group. If you don’t listen hard you might miss something.

Puns are galore, most strikingly in the series by Stefanie Jones and Elgar Alderman which centre round a variety of professions, including doctors with no patience. Or patients. They are easy jokes and there are a lot of them. The language of the show is blunt, and at times painstakingly literal. Frequently cringe-worthy, a little crude; luckily it’s comical.

Yet, despite the cast’s strength, little can accommodate for weak writing. One sketch rightly exemplifies how warbled references to ‘P.S I Love You’ and diets are not sufficient fodder for laughs at all. Similarly a painful ‘You should get tested’ sketch strains when three men discussing how they should ‘get tested’ for being sexist, turn to Stefanie Jones. Her blank response: ‘I’m a woman’, is painfully inept, failing to acknowledge that sexism is for both sexes.

However, some sketches showcased the kind of creativity that unleashes real comic potential. A delightful game of bingo turns sadistic with Adam Jones’ fabulous rhyming caller: ’39...the baby is mine’. Rhyme plays an integral and hysterical part in this little number, with some word play that really made my day. Jones also shone as the overly keen cook, Clive, in a mock ‘Come Dine with me’ scenario who—in homage to Heston—produces a real chocolate moose.

Fundamentally, it’s this playful attitude towards both old and new sources that makes up this sketch series; responding with ease to both the traditional stories of childhood, with Mary and her little lamb taking a cunning twist, but also drawing on contemporary news, such as a pensioner’s outrage at a woman on a banknote. Cultural references abound, and in all mediums. The superbly surreal machine-gun-toting Boris invades a number of childhood television shows, and the music of Louis Armstrong gets a number of refreshing, if unforeseen, visits throughout. Both invasions are achingly simple, but brilliantly effective.

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