The Playhouse was packed last night. Six-hundred bottoms on six-hundred seats for this one off performance by our Palin-founded troupe of funny men and women, and two of their rival groups (whom they very diplomatically call “friends”) the Durham Revue, and the Cambridge Footlights. Things started off, then, on an optimistic note. The Playhouse were even generous enough to provide me and my companion (a reviewer from a rival publication) a voucher each for two free drinks, allowing us to rather enjoy ourselves in the circle bar during the interval.
The lights went down. The crowd demanded pleasing. Unfortunately, this was only half delivered. The Durham review started off, all dressed in a dull kind of school uniform, and delivered a series of quite short but rather predictable sketches based on, among other things, jazz music and its risk to drivers “jazz can go off the beat; driving can’t”, and an astronaut asking “are we there yet”. Actually, that last sketch was quite good, but should have cut after the admittedly-hilarious line “because you’re a fucking astronaut” instead of spinning out the dim-space-traveller for another three or so minutes, resulting in the bizarre and unfunny revelation that our astronautress had swapped oxygen canisters for Doritos. Yawn.
Durham weren’t always great, but at least when it wasn’t sweet, it was short. Cambridge, on the other hand, could have done with some of Durham’s briskness. They opened with an unattractive man (whose name , unfortunately, I cannot remember and am unable to look up in the nonexistent programme I was given) who did a slow stand-up routine. A rather sad joke about Marmite set the ball rolling. After, their act delivered a series of cumbersome sagas, though I should point out that Footlights’s Girl-with-big-blonde-hair did exceptionally well to rescue the show after an health emergency in the stalls meant the lights had to go on, leaving the audience confused, laughing nervously. Her “Shakespeare Poem” was amusing. Though it was an awful poem.
Cambridge picked up just before the interval: on came a Michael-MacIntyre-lookalike, whose light-hearted treatment of ‘lol’ etymology (etymo-lol-ogy, you could perhaps call it?) went down well. After a brief and, for us, quite inebriating break, The Oxford Revue literally danced onto the stage. It was a silly and wonderful breath of fresh air after a first half of what were quite similar-sounding sketches. And they got better and better as time went on. Religion, and Catholicism in particular, was the butt of many of the troupes’ jokes, yet only the Revue’s sketches handled it in a seriously funny manner. A priest being ordained is ordered to “down it, down it down it”, before swigging down his chalice and being greeted by cheers of “You’re a priest, you’re a priest, you’re a priest” before running off to bother the choirboys. Excellent. Skits about the North/South divide (“Think of it as the ceiling of a sewer, but upside down”) and a obstinate steak (“I ordered it rare” – “would you not say it was rare for a steak to talk?”) that ended up seducing its owner’s dinner date definitely drew a considerable laugh from this considerable audience. The Revue were also the only ones who harnessed the situation and played on the very-much-present mutual rivalry, announcing in a sketch about mental arithmetic “There’s always a place for you at Durham”.
The home team played well in the home arena, drawing an enjoyable evening to a zany close. Though my companion complained that she had seen some of their sketches done before, I was quite happy overall, and went away reminded that the Oxford Drama Scene is not all about three-hour Greek epics or painfully trendy adaptations of feminist novels. It’s also about fun and silliness too: giant orange hats and shits in handbags.