The Oxford Revue and Friends may well provide an early showcase of
The show consists of around just over 2 hours of sketch comedy by the 3 groups, with the first half containing about 30 minutes each by the Durham Revue, then the Footlights, followed after the interval by approximately an hour of sketches by the Oxford Revue. The whole show was tied together by an impressively professional compère, performing in a role which required personality, openness, authenticity, and natural likeability, and was thus sensibly delegated to the one American student in the show, Sophia Goettke. Throughout the sketches all the groups demonstrated a highly impressive understanding of the strengths and limitations of their medium, not simply dodging but somersaulting over a number of common pitfalls. All of the groups avoided any temptation to be profound or thought-provoking, something which a sketch simply doesn’t have the time-capacity to do effectively. They also clearly recognised the need to drive humour through bold caricatures, rather than nuanced and relatable characters, with whom the audience can’t connect in such a short period.
Furthermore, each group managed to put together sketches which both acknowledged their core demographic (university aged students) whilst not excluding other interested parties. The Durham Revue deserve particular credit for this, delivering a set driven by pop culture references and parody, the subject matter of which may have been more relevant to younger audiences in places, but the humour of which was driven by big characters and often delightfully tasteless gags which required little to no knowledge of the subject matter to understand. Every single one of the performers in the show also deserves credit for taking to a setting as formal as the Oxford Playhouse with such confidence. The audience were treated to Oxbridge undergraduates delivering with a level of character, sharpness and conviction which some Oxbridge graduates could learn a lot from * cough* Theresa May * cough*.
The Durham Revue stood out as the pick of the bunch on the night. They were able to deliver 30 minutes of short, sharp sketches with consistently effective punch lines battering the audience punch-drunk in a way none of them had been since their divorced DT teacher was left in charge of the Year 8 school disco. Both the Footlights and the Oxford Revue delivered an eclectic mix of parody, physical and surreal comedy containing some truly fantastic moments, but neither of their sets felt as well finessed as the Durham Revue’s, with some sketches seeming to lack satisfying endings, and the sketches occasionally losing pace and fluidity due to the odd hesitant or bungled line. These are only minor quibbles, however, and whilst neither group left the audience as punch-drunk as the Durham Revue had, they certainly left us the late-night kebab-end-of-punch-tipsy.
The night was, ultimately, a resounding success. All the groups showed an understanding of their genre which they would have been forgiven for lacking considering their presumably limited experience. Each group appeared aware of the risks of appearing in a bourgeois-elite university bubble, with the Oxbridge groups both delivering a couple of quick jokes that demonstrated a healthy self-awareness without dwelling on the issue. There was room for improvement through further refinement of the performances. However, the core comedic talent of these aspiring comics fills me with confidence that when current titans such as David Mitchell, Hugh Dennis, David Baddiel and the rest of the current crop of performers from these societies are pushed into obscurity, the hands that shove them there will be very funny indeed.