The welcome to the Parish of Cummerbund-upon-Tweed came not, as one might expect, in the auditorium, but way before then, as soon as you entered the theatre. For there the cast were, handing out programmes ostensibly doubling as church newsletters and giving the audience a warm, albeit slightly disconcerting, welcome.
Indeed, it was this sort of interaction with the audience that went on to characterise the rest of the show: the first scene required the audience to act as the congregation in a church, whilst the second required them to act as a footy team at half time, training exercises and all.
Perhaps most impressive of all, the four actors, or should I say parishioners of Cummerbund-upon-Tweed, managed to sustain this determined obliteration of the fourth wall throughout the performance and did so in increasingly innovative ways. A particular highlight was one poor audience member being chosen to engaged in a Morris-dancing lesson on stage. Not only did he have to imitate some rather dubious moves, but, best of all, his “performance” was immediately replayed to the audience, in a clever twist on modern sporting practices.
Yet, this interactive approach was not just reserved for the comedic peaks of the show but suffused it at every point, whether it be Tom Dowling passing around a clipboard to gather signatures for a petition or Jack Chisnall distributing bourbons at his scarily on point neighbourhood alliance session. Attention to detail goes a long way in comedy and the parishioners, true to reputation, hit it on the head.
As one might expect from such a parochially titled show, the Revue’s other forte in this production was biting, or at least relatively biting, social satire. Little England was thrown up in all its pernickety, small-minded glory in segments ranging from a church service to a traffic warden offloading her woes.
The satire came even before the performers arrived on stage in the form of the programme-cum-church newsletter. A hit-and-miss affair, with a rather unconvincing spoof on home furniture adverts (the advert in question selling “Acorn wall-mounted old ladies”), it did convey devastatingly well the inanity of these publications, and the upcoming events they publicise within.
In the show itself, apologetic parents, bags for life, software updates, societal attitudes towards tramps and the neighbourhood alliance were all targets which various cast members hit with laser-like precision. In that sense it was a bit like Hot Fuzz, but funnier, on the stage and without the creepiness.
As with all comedy, especially that produced by students, there were bits that fell flat. Some of the monologues, such as the one about being a male dinner lady (i.e. a dinner man), whilst admittedly having a relatively amusing premise, significantly overstayed their welcome on the stage. There was the now clichéd segment of two of the actors seeming to be having sex but actually doing something much more inane, such as changing a light bulb.
One of the great mistakes that any comedian can make is being seen to enjoy their own jokes and there were, at times, moments when the actors could not repress a smirk at their own wit. Moreover, none of the comedy was painfully funny but rather gently amusing. All that aside, I came away very impressed. This was on the whole an innovative, satirical performance, which was compellingly professional given that it was put on by a group of students.