Oxford, Cambridge, Durham: an alliance (or rivalry) for the ages. Although the title of the evening was ‘The Oxford Revue and Friends’, the rivalry and tension between each university’s comedic troupes were clear in this one-off performance at the Playhouse. With three great groups determined to out-perform each other, all while emceed by a professional stand-up comedian, the audience was in for a treat. It proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable night (which may or may not have been helped by a large glass of complimentary Playhouse-reviewer wine), but one not without its highs and lows.
The evening was compèred by Naz Osmanoglu, a comedian who dripped confidence and delighted in putting the audience in the hot seat. At his best, he was mercilessly picking on certain members of the audience, with witty (read: ruthless) barbs which made the rest of us glad we weren’t the object of his attention. His excellent physicality and voice work, as well as the quick-fire pace of his material, made it clear who the professional in the room was. ‘Oxford-y’ material about the ‘Doxbridge’ rivalry and the difference between undergrad and grad students was initially funny, but repeated excessively. In his role as compère, he easily succeeded in getting the audience fired up and ready for the smorgasbord of comedy we were about to receive.
It proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable night (which may or may not have been helped by a large glass of complimentary Playhouse-reviewer wine), but one not without its highs and lows.
First up on the billing were the Cambridge Footlights. While this troupe are arguably the most revered of the three, they were decimated by Cambridge’s Exam Term, so had only a small number of performers, and seemed to lack preparation. Despite having heard excellent reviews of the Footlights from Fringe and beyond, this didn’t seem to be one of their stronger shows. They were uncomfortable on stage, lines were forgotten or misremembered, and transitions with music and lighting were clunky. It was easy to see that with more of their members, and more rehearsal, the show could have been great, but unfortunately it missed the mark on this particular day.
After another interlude from Osmanoglu, it was the Durham Revue’s turn on stage, for what was fairly unanimously the highlight of the night. Putting Oxbridge to shame, they brought a slick, witty, energetic performance which never became dull, and at one point had me in tears. I’ve heard reports of the intensity of their selection and rehearsal process and this certainly paid off in what was a thoroughly considered performance with some truly memorable sketches. Mixing short standup sets, traditional sketches, and some more rogue choices such as mime, the Revue had the audience thoroughly convinced of their writing ability, confidence in performance, and how well they worked together as a group.
The final performance of the night was from the Oxford Revue. Despite some setbacks, such as a mic failure in their final musical number, the troupe pulled through and delivered a confident, genuinely funny show. Mostly sticking to sketches, and managing not to veer into the territory of Oxford inside jokes, the comedy on show had mass appeal, and the performance’s energy rarely lagged. The witty and confident comedic duo of Rory Fraser and Olly Jackson was a highlight, and I could certainly see this pairing going on to bigger performances and their own shows in the future. One disappointment was that the Revue felt male-centric, in contrast to the show of female comedic talent from the other two universities. With more female performers, their comedy would have more depth and a range of different voices. Nonetheless, this wasn’t enough to hinder the audience’s enjoyment of what was a joyous and energetic set.
The Oxford Revue should be congratulated both for their performance, and for bringing this evening together: the Playhouse was nearly sold out, a rare feat for a student show this year. The performance was a very enjoyable evening, and the variety element worked well. In a term not saturated with exams, I’m sure the performances would have been even stronger. All the same, it was uplifting to see performers from these three universities, as well as a professional stand-up comic, together on the prestigious Playhouse stage.