Sketch comedy is a notoriously fickle mistress. An audience appreciates the fact that they won’t laugh throughout; not every sketch will tickle every person, and some may even fall flat. The audience accepts this possibility, hoping that they will be regularly moved to laughter, but understanding that not every sketch can be a winner.
Even so, however, I found myself feeling short-changed at the end of a disappointingly subdued performance from the Oxford Revue on Saturday night. Gags is a warm-up for the material that the Revue will be taking on tour to Cambridge and Durham, but on this evidence, it could do with some fine-tuning. The show varies between sketches with wasted potential, and ones with no potential. Most disappointing of those in the latter group was entitled ‘Stupid Twat Factor’, an X-Factor parody which feels like little more than taking pot shots at an easy target. This could be forgiven if the sketch was funny, but, containing no jokes beyond its original conceit, it fell flat. Sketches which built towards a final pay-off also tended to be a disappointment, as the pay-offs were rarely funny enough to justify the sketch.
There were funny moments: some moments inspired genuine, rather than polite, laughter. These sketches, however, were let down by a cast who seemed rather shell-shocked by the occasion.
This is a new line-up to the Revue, and it shows. Whereas the old Revue had a swagger about them which could bring laughs from even the weakest sketches, this cast seemed for much of the night to be holding something back. Rachel Watkeys Dowie was the only performer willing to come out of her shell in the opening hour, with all other cast members guilty of under-selling some of the better jokes with poor delivery.
The second half was an improvement on this front; George Mather in particular seemed like a different, much funnier man after the break. He was perhaps inspired by Joseph Morpurgo, a guest act whose post-interval presentation ranked amongst the most enjoyable parts of the evening. It was performed with a level of charm and confidence that the Revue reached occasionally but not often enough.
Their show certainly has a great deal of potential, but it is hidden at the moment amongst some weak material, and under some restrained performances. If the performers could find a little more confidence in their own ability, both to perform and to judge what’s funny, it would go a long way towards turning this substandard material into a success.
PHOTOS/ Barney Iley-Williamson