The Oxford Revue are prolific; just this Hilary, they have written two shows, juggled a demanding touring calendar and produced three Audreys, relaxed stand-up nights held in the Wheatsheaf that showcase promising skits from the wider Oxford comedy scene. They are beaten in indefatigability only by the likes of Barbara Cartland. The Revue’s writing process is a little less glamorous – though, effective, nonetheless. And it has to be, “comedy is serious business”, remarks Revue director, Barney Iley, and it seems that quantity, not quality, is the name of the game. To be fair, there wasn’t a single sketch that I was shown that I couldn’t see, with a little more flesh on its bones, becoming a pretty hilarious routine. But, with such time pressures, there’s an emphasis upon recording and saving all the script and note work of their rehearsals. Pride must be swallowed, as there is always the promise that their ‘worst’ work will spark off some of their best ideas.
Taking a slightly different initiative to their normal course, writers, in pairs, are given two props to integrate into their sketch. There is a some leeway, though. The combination of a bible and a basketball have one group flummoxed; the basketball is dropped, and, eventually, even the bible is replaced. The sketch ends up with a priest preaching from Kate Middleton’s topical tombe, Celebrate. It’s taken apart by rest of the Revue – they take what works from it only what works, and the rest is for the scrap-heap.
The Revenge of the Oxford Revue will see the Revue deviate from the standard ‘tall tales’ form. This time, a thematic framework is put in place, around which the sketches should fit. Satirising the trope of the desert-island drama, Revenge will depict a disparate group of people, trapped on a traffic island together. The props that act as stimulus for in this night’s writing workshop are potential props for the Lost rip-off. The framework relies upon ambiguity, something most of the troupe have their eye upon. In a parody of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Nick Davies and Rachel Watkeys Dowie come up with a wonderfully clever physical routine, full of the cheeky absurdist twists for which the Revue are known. Davies, in particular, steals focus with excellent comedic time and a clear understanding of the small physical ticks that leave us in stitches.
At this stage in the rehearsal process, any predictions as to what the show will actually look like are purely speculative. The raw materials are there: a talented set of writers and actors, a frank but fair directorial hand, and the constant deference towards to absurd. Not every gag will please a full house, but the span of the Revue in their collective content and talents is too broad not to induce a couple of laughs. The reputation of the Revue is – in a very glib phrase – “both a blessing and a curse”. I suggest that audience members stop expecting proto-Python patter or Stewart Lee satire. They should just expect the unexpected.