Like the ‘dynamic duo’ that is Georgia Bruce and Jack Chisnall’s presidency of the revue, this review is written by a friend and myself (so bear in mind that the friend mentioned just now might have written this bit – or not). A postmodern answer to a postmodern show.
After an evening discussing the evils of postmodernity, my associate and I found ourselves unable to find the door to the theatre. We concluded that we had become the victims of some sort of devilish Derridean subversion of entrance and exit. Ironically (of course), an hour and a half later, we had in fact been the victims of such a trick. Nevertheless we had been tricked in a slightly different way to what we had thought, for rather than there being no entrance, it was rather the (metaphorical) building that was missing.The show was professionally executed and imaginatively conceived – but to continue the metaphor (or was the door story true…)– we were left with a lot of entrances and exits and sometimes not much in-between.
The English comic tradition thrives on two kinds of humour: the humour of awkwardness, or absence, and the pitch-black humour of the macabre. The Revue’s OXMAS party employed mainly a version of the former to great bathetic effect: throughout, jokes were instantly devalued, or simply not issued. Despite some very strong sketches, our ultimate feeling was that there was something missing.
The show opened with some short sketches by the presidents which warmed the crowd before Lizzy Mansfield came on for the first of a series of stand up sets. Her humor worked on two levels. On one level she told quirky banal stories with very family friendly punch lines. On the other, she revealed an incredibly dark and intelligent wit, which would periodically drop into her routine, subverting the family friendly in a perversely funny way. For me/us this worked very well, for Mansfield’s skill lies in finding ways of making the dark humor cohere perfectly with the innocent story worlds she conjures. This well constructed combination of morbidity and story telling kept us guessing and made her dark wit all the more guiltily amusing.
The other highlight of the stand ups was George McGoldrick who rather innovatively blended live DJ-ing with his routine. As we were sitting at the rear of the stage we could see him coordinating different sound effects while performing his readings of made up texts. His humor again worked with the logic of disavowal. He doesn’t so much tell jokes but open a space for where there would be a joke. He did this by creating a disjunction between music and speech and in this awkward and inappropriate juxtaposition, the laughter followed. More than anything we have to credit his bravery, on the one hand because of the technical balance of spinning two plates at once but also because as a performer he must manage the risk that the humour won’t come off. It’s a humor that doesn’t have an obvious substantive content, rather it creates the conditions for laughter. Fortunately, it worked on the night.
This strategy of contraposition and disavowal characterized much of the humor throughout. One of the most symptomatic moments of this was the sketch troupe Giants. They opened by raising their hands and saying ‘giants’ in a halfhearted way. The joke is that they came on, failed to deliver a joke and then acted as if they had just delivered a joke. The joke is, therefore, that we are being expected to laugh, with no cause to laugh – and therefore paradoxically we laugh. It seemed to work and the audience responded well. It also illustrates how many of the routines were structured around the build up to or the failed end of a joke. In short the jokes are jokes about jokes. Having said that they were also responsible for the most outright hilarious moment of the evening during a sketch where the two of them took it in turns to do impressions, with the proviso they wouldn’t try pervy catholic priest…
The Revue themselves flirted with this disavowed humour, but the best moments were always the ones with a definitive sense of a punch line. One of the best sketches was the one set in a car in which a couple having gone on their first date start listening to Adele’s ‘Hello’. The guy (Jack Chisnall) nonchalantly trying to be cool says its shit. His date (Georgia Bruce) looking pained tries to agree, all the while suppressing the urge to sing a long. The building tension between them finds a definite consummation when driven to desperation Bruce tells a nearby car to stop playing the song. It’s a very well structured sketch that is also very rich in social observation. The excessive agreement with what you are trying to hide in a bid to please someone else has a certain poignancy. It testifies to the awkward tension between people who want to like each other and want to please each other, but fundamentally perhaps aren’t for each other.
Whether this humor of disavowing a joke works is debatable, certainly we both agreed we didn’t laugh as much we have on other revue shows. But equally it is undeniable the crowd loved it, and this is after all the true test. If you get the chance, try and see the revue next term and see what you think of this new direction.