Review : The Durham Revue Returners’ Show : Unfinished Business

Going to the Durham Revue’s Unfinished Business feels like going to a concert : the loud music, the lights, the smoke and of course, the cheering crowd… One thing is sure, the troupe knows how to make a strong start. After greeting their audience, they introduced their personas and why they were there : one last show, hoping they would get to resolve their unfinished business. 

For personas emerging from the grave, they were incredibly energetic and full of life : the comedians balanced quite well their comedia dell’arte style and the necessity to pause for effect— timing is everything when it comes to comedy —, it never felt like they were trying too hard. There was a certain humility to their performance paired with perfect synchronisation. As for the sketches themselves, some were better than others, but I wouldn’t call any of them unfunny. One thing that did bother me a little was the small digression about climate change which lacked subtlety and didn’t address an issue as much as it screamed to the audience « I’m aware of it! ». It felt a little easy and even though they engaged the audience by pointing out how ridiculous it is not to believe in an environmental reality, they failed to make a joke out of it. 

The show was mainly composed of sketches that were sure to make the audience laugh since they relied on pop culture, from Batman to Star Wars, and on our dear generational angst— the ad for existential crisis and nihilism received a round of applause. However, It was hard not to notice the absence of originality in some sketches. Comedy is hard to achieve, especially because nowadays politically correct doesn’t really apply to this genre and people have been using the same material for a long time. Consequently, when I see a comedian who appears to be throwing a ball but, as it turns out, is actually throwing a baby for fun, I can’t help but wonder how that is different from what you could read in Cyanide & Happiness ten years ago. Dark humour, even mild, shouldn’t feel safe, and when it becomes predictable it’s no longer outrageous, no longer exciting.

And yet, despite the unoriginal material, some jokes will never not be funny : putting a drowning victim in rice, a lame but endearing superhero (hats off to Charlie Billingham for being a hilarious bird-plane-man), a parody of the Bible… Mostly, what kept the show interesting was the fact that it wasn’t a flat compilation of sketches, but rather an entanglement of three different elements : In addition to the sketches, the personas’ very own issues and last wishes presented during the introduction, and solved throughout the show, allowed the comedians to engage the audience. Moreover, a few off-stage phone calls were used as transitions between the sketches, and followed the same subplot — a man leaving messages to the BBC with random ideas, who eventually gets called back only for his suggestions to be shut down. Impossible to get bored when it keeps changing! The Revue achieved to make a light and fun show with a sitcom-like rhythm, although they wouldn’t need the pre-recorded laughs.

Overall, in spite of the little quirks, I really had a good time. Reflecting on it inevitably brings out the little flaws and makes them bigger than they actually were. Not to mention some imperfections made the performance even more enjoyable, like the comedians trying to hold their laugh during the D&D game. It’s the performers that make good comedy. The last sketch — featuring Lydia Cook as an emotional strength machine — left the audience, me included, wanting more.

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