The lights dimmed, silence descended over the audience, when suddenly – “WOOO!” – Sophia Goettke (of The Oxford Revue) burst onto the stage with a shout. She was to be our ‘compere’ for the evening, despite joking that she didn’t know what the word meant.
What followed was a short stand-up set, where Goettke played on the language of her German heritage to raucous laughter from the audience. Focusing on ‘relatable’ words, she introduced us to idioms such as ‘kummerspeck’, a personal favourite of mine, meaning to gain weight from sadness, and literally translated as ‘grief bacon.’ The fact that Goettke commanded both stage and audience solo is what made her performance particularly impressive. Her anecdotal style of comedy stood in refreshing contrast to the sketch comedy acts; and, in a show where so many characters were performed, allowed for key moments of personal connection with the audience.
First to be introduced by Goettke were The Durham Revue, represented by trio Charlie Billingham, Henrie Allen and Bob Howat. Their approach to sketch comedy was masterful, and elevated by the brilliance of their delivery. Particularly impressive were the ‘behind the scenes’ elements of their set. Explaining their intention, in “taking your expectations and having a little play”, the actors presented a number of scenarios which overturned the audience’s expectations to comedic effect. Calling it the ‘pull back and reveal’, one such scene saw Allen lying on top of Billingham suggestively, before explaining that they were actually demonstrating the relative densities of oil and water. It were moments like this, where the audience were invited to take a glimpse at the creation of comedy, that made this performance unique, and demonstrated the strong ability of the performers.
The stand out performance, however, comes from Bob Howat, in his reading from the autobiography of ‘Noo Noo’ (of Teletubbies fame). Surprisingly, Howat manages to take a comedic cliché (the dark reimagining of children’s television characters), and create something fresh. Not only is an addiction to snorting tubby custard exposed, but Dipsy (a RADA alumnus, apparently) has auditioned for the part of Rosencrantz in Hamlet and been rejected because of the television in his stomach. The Durham Revue proved themselves to be extremely able comedians, paving the way for the following acts with noticeable ease.
Next up were the famed Cambridge Footlights. Curating a set that was both varied and playful, the performers carried us through to the interval with a number of sketches, their subjects ranging from spies with funny names to the act of ordering breakfast in a restaurant. Some jokes unfortunately fell short, such as their ‘back in my day’ skit, which hinged on a punchline about the timelessness of Abercrombie and Fitch. The performance was also sometimes hampered by unclear dialogue, meaning that the audience lost out on key comedic points. Despite this, parts of their work shone out. Their ‘Fairtrade drugs’ advert was a particularly funny segment; as was their ‘voodoo-doll job interview’ (the punchline here being the mistaken identity of the doll). Overall, the performance was cleverly thought through, and had the potential to be more impressive in a more intimate setting, where sound issues could be reduced.
We had seen the friends, and now at last it was time for the main event: The Oxford Revue themselves. No topic was off-limits in this vivacious performance, which discussed (among other things) gun laws, anti-vaxxers, Zac Efron’s ‘sexy’ Ted Bundy; and of course, the latent biblical analogies in Fifty Shades of Gray. “After all”, says Tommy Hurst’s character, “he is called Christian.” The sheer variety and inventiveness of the set, bolstered by the superb comedic prowess of those on stage, culminated in an unforgettable comedic experience. Seriously: I’ll never think of Fifty Shades the same again.
These students are truly deserving of recognition for the time and effort they put into this performance. Whilst it isn’t a perfect science, the quality and polish they achieved onstage was rewarded by the obvious enjoyment of the audience. Stand out performances came from Mati and Jasmine, in their roles as bumbling first-date commentators. Finally, credit must be given to Hurst for baring (nearly) all in the final ‘naked sketch’ – a true dedication to his art.
Overall, the tone of the night was fun and light-hearted, providing the perfect antidote to post-finals existentialism. I just wish I could watch it again.