The 2015–16 Durham Revue made their debut appearance on The Assembly Rooms Theatre stage last Sunday, and the addition of four new troupe members with more traditional theatre experience really proved its worth. Everything from the facial expressions to the physicality, accents and delivery seemed much more purposeful and slickly executed than it had in previous years. The complete and unabashed confidence with which the individual troupe members took their first steps on stage also helped to immediately dispel that lingering sense of awkwardness and unease most audience members feel when watching an unproven comedy act. Bar some (though still surprisingly few) first-night hiccups, the Revue succeeded in delivering a solid hour and a bit of entertainment to the packed house.
The overall quality of the sketches was easily on par with some more seasoned troupes, and the overarching Gogglebox/Gigglebox theme helped pull the skits together without standing in the way of variety. In fact, one of the most successful sketches of the evening was a rather straightforward riff on the ridiculous habits of TV historians. It mined a recognizable concept for comedic gold without having to overstretch for punchlines all while giving each individual member the chance to shine (though fresher Luke Maskell did come dangerously close to stealing the whole thing).
The troupe further put their observational skills to good use in a seemingly familiar but nonetheless expertly executed sketch on awkward interactions between students, with some excellent commentary from newcomer Tom Harper for added giggles. The evening also included one of the most deftly-handled examples of audience participation I have ever seen, with the unfortunate consequence that a game of Guess Who? will simply never be as much fun as it used to be. The show continually struck the balance between such clever sketches and more absurdly comic fare, including an entirely unexpected take on the Labour Party that in spite of its ludicrousness still continues to make perfect sense.
A pair of utterly genius complimentary transition sketches failed to get the laughs they deserved due to issues with the volume of the background music, which proved to be problematic for some other sketches as well. Most likely due to the fact that it was their first big public performance, some troupe members didn’t quite manage to ride out the audience’s laughter, meaning that jokes were sometimes lost. A bit more practice in front of an audience as well as with the tech crew will easily solve these problems.
It’s unusual to see such an assured debut from any group, let alone a university sketch troupe. With such a wide array of comedic gems to draw from – keep an eye out for Andrew Shires’ moment in the spotlight, as well as one very English coming out story – the Durham Revue have a very successful 2016 to look forward to. If I were you, I’d get my ticket to their February 21st Gala Theatre Comedyfest with Oxford and Cambridge right now.