In a word, brilliant. On Saturday night a packed-out Oxford Playhouse was treated to two uproarious hours billed as the Oxford Revue and Friends. During those two hours we were subject to everything from a finger broken during an anal examination, to the Hogwarts student who died from starvation after Harry Potter bought everything from the trolley. Variety, depravity and hilarity: the unholy Trinity that made this one of the best things I have seen on the Oxford stage.
We opened with Dan Byam Shaw, whose provocative spoken word piece extolled the miseries of being a white man barred on grounds of colour and gender from social justice campaigning. A very incisive piece, perhaps more thought provoking than it was funny but nonetheless a very worthy opener. It was especially good to see comedy that engaged frankly with actual Oxford issues.
Next, Alex Fox presented a one-man mini-family drama by acting out two sons and their relationship with their father. The first son was a rah on steroids (“if you are what you eat, then I eat legend”), the second a forgotten younger brother, bullied into mild depression. This was a fascinating one-man show for it was as compelling as it was hilarious. While sometimes true that comedy has tragedy at its heart, this piece couldn’t quite reconcile the two. In the end we were left wanting an ending as brilliant as the overall execution and conception.
The final piece by George McGoldrick consisted in a series of imaginary letters. They were all delivered in a sardonic nasal monotone which somehow worked for all the letters. The highlight must have been the Harry Potter story, just fantastic.
Next we saw the Cambridge Footlights. Surprisingly sparse, there were only two of them. They were nonetheless a highly dynamic duo with a lot of ingenuity and skill. However, theyir style didn’t quite fit the tone of the evening. Theirs was a much quieter form of humour based on word puns and the like. These were often executed with lengthy build-ups or delivered in short one to three line sketches. The result was funny but not hilarious. In this respect, following their suggestion that this was a Varsity comedy match, the Tabs were well and truly shoed.
This brings us to the highlight of the evening, the Revue. What is striking about their style is how carefully, in fact often meticulously crafted their sketches are. There is very much a method in this madness: they really know when and how to put in the laughs for maximum effect. One sketch for example showed us a recitation of a GCSE drama piece. Apart from being spot-on as regard the ridiculous hoop-jumping that it entails (“I am bullied on social media…”) it was a fantastically well-structured sketch. Like a magic trick, it built up to a ‘prestige’- a final trick that you didn’t see coming. In this case, Jack Chisnall, who was awkwardly standing at the back, was pushed as a door. Everyone in the audience who ever did GCSE drama exploded with laughter.
Their thought/intuition/voodoo/whatever it is that makes their pieces so well rounded and crafted, was complemented by their immense skill. They are in their own right actors, musicians, mimes and much more. The one moment that summed up their sheer virtuosity was a short sketch in which we saw two football fans chanting at a match. The chanting however gradually gave way into classical music. In one particularly impressive feat they went from “Ryan Giggs Ryan Giggs” to Beethoven’s Fur Elise. Another very impressive performance was a song imitating a GCSE French Oral. Switching between a generic description of going to the train station and a question on feminism, it just summed up every bullshit language oral exam I’ve ever sat through.
All in all a fantastic evening. What was borderline inspiring about the whole thing was the sheer energy, commitment and professionalism of them all. If indeed they keep this up perhaps they too might join the pantheon of the Revue. Well who knows, but if indeed you ever get a chance to see the Revue, make absolutely sure that you go!