Bringing together three of the country’s most renowned student sketch troupes – namely the Oxford Revue, Cambridge Footlights and Durham Revue – Comedyfest was truly a showcase of the best that student comedy has to offer. All three companies succeeded in filling the vast space of the Gala Theatre with waves of laughter, growing stronger as the evening progressed from troupe to troupe.
Oxford Revue opened the evening’s entertainment, with a somewhat shaky start. The sketches were conceptually strong, touching upon topics from VR to Build-a-Bear, and performed with full commitment by the whole troupe, but they suffered from a lack of pace and being too long. The gags they had were good, but they were spread too thin and the sketches lost energy in their more lingering sections. They did, however, appear to find their feet by the end, providing a solid closing run of sketches to finish their set. Although they might have benefitted from a stricter editor and a greater sense of pace, the Oxford Revue provided a confident start to the evening, setting the humorous atmosphere for the other two companies.
The Cambridge Footlights followed hot on their heels, starting off with a few short, punchy sketches before moving onto more developed ones. There were a few slow moments, but the Footlights kept up energy levels and gained a greater response from the audience than their predecessors. Even in a particularly sustained moment of corpsing, the atmosphere was jocular enough for them to play it off and keep the laughter rolling. An incident with an unusually ingested chocolate bar was an especially memorable moment in the Footlights’ run of winning sketches, ranging from call centres to online dating to Eurovision. All the performers were energetic, pulling off some excellent accents and brilliant pieces of comic timing.
After a brief intermission, the Durham Revue hit the stage, quickly reasserting the comic atmosphere with a fast-paced introduction. Engaging directly with the audience as a group, the Revue immediately established a rapport and a high pace and energy to their section of the show. This was successfully maintained as they flitted between shorter and longer sketches, examining topics as diverse as blind dates and Lord of the Flies. The particular success of the Durham Revue’s segment was its cohesion, it felt like more of a unified production than the other two. A few running gags, and especially the through-line of meta-comedy, directly addressing and engaging with audience to teach them their ways and flog them energy drinks, explaining their slightly odd habit of boogying along to the music during blackout transitions. These songs too often cleverly reflected back on the sketches before them, and these various threads were tied together in their finale sketch of a self-award ceremony. This careful knitting together of the sketches gave the set a more complete feel, and provided a highly satisfactory conclusion to the evening.
Comedyfest was a huge success, all three troupes showcasing their talents. The audience’s response grew throughout the evening, as the comedic pace increased and people settled more and more into the atmosphere. I feel a little guilty coming out so strongly in favour of the Durham Revue, and it cannot be forgotten they were performing to a home crowd, but whilst the Oxford Revue and Cambridge Footlights excellently demonstrated their comedic clout, the Durham Revue shone with a highly developed and extremely funny set. Perhaps it was merely the intermission beverages helping people along, and perhaps I’m just biased, but for me the Durham Revue stood out among strong competition as the comedic force to be reckoned with.