Failure – and how to narrowly avoid it

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What do you do if you want to see pirate-local councillor hostage banter, Mr Kipling as a Latino cake-lord and singer/songwriter hill-billies who could have been extras in ‘Deliverance’? Go and see the Oxford Revue, of course.

The premise of the show’s introduction sounds promising (Max Fletcher in just his boxers, oblivious to the audience, until he puts on his glasses) and I can only hope that they get the timing down to a tee and the quality of the various films spot on. This and the general plotlines are what make up the Oxford Revue for me – a seeming attitude of freedom from the reception of the public, almost a take-it-or-leave-it image.

But again, for me, it was this very nature of the sketches that is my biggest criticism of this show. The absurdity of the situation and characters went far beyond the general, if not faint, realms of recognisability found in other, more mainstream, sketch shows. Don’t get me wrong, the show did on many occasions provoke genuine laughter and I would like other people to experience their humour, which to some extent is extreme and hence sidesteps what I have just called the ‘mainstream’ crowd. Yet the problem is that these extremes aren’t capitalised on enough and consequently the scenes aren’t quite bizarre, just not quite ‘standard’.

Though they were thorough in all characters, they weren’t always original: I couldn’t help being reminded of Zapp Brannigan from ‘Futurama’ in the character of the ship captain; elsewhere, I recognised the infamous ‘Family Guy’-style flashbacks. I’m not sure this latter device worked as effectively as it does on TV; the switch from current to extemporaneous scenes was a bit sluggish and it wasn’t initially obvious what they were trying to achieve.

The acting in sketches is generally done well. Nick Davies is absolutely sure of each of his various characters and has, perhaps with his height or American accent, a considerably powerful stage presence. A few of Fletcher’s accents went a bit wayward but his Spanish, at least, was convincing. It was the enthusiasm of both performers that filtered through and really made the timing

The duo work well together and look remarkably comfortable with being on stage. I think the overall comedy, however, could be improved if there were a more striking difference between the two comedians and their personae. I’m not suggesting getting someone else in, but simply creating a starker contrast without coming across as too ridiculous and forced. See what you think.

‘Failure, and how to achieve it’ –  2.5 stars

BT Studio, 21:30, Tues-Sat 3rd Week

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