“The best solution to combat the Monday blues and celebrate a week filled with incredible talent and shows…

The opening night of Durham Drama Festival 2024 was the best commencement to a week of theatre with a hilarious, fun-filled ride on a ‘carousel of comedy’ featuring performances from the Stand Society, the Durham Revue, and Shellshock Improv!

Right of the bat, the enthusiasm from all the comedians in the show was evident, as each society began to display their unique comedic prowess. It was remarkable to see how comfortable everyone was on stage and delivering their performance with flair. The show started with different sets from the Stand Soc focusing more on observational and anecdotal comedy. Eli Fuller was the opening act, and their set leaned more toward traditionally taboo topics of sexuality and body shaming. Fuller’s punchlines were laced with the right level of humour and thought-provoking and their confidence was amazing, including one or two improvised lines.

Jamie Smyth‘s comedy style focused more on observations made during his life, things he’s annoyed about, and his adventures with ‘Bugsy Malone’ auditions that left the audience in splits. His calm and relaxing energy on stage was wonderful and his experiences were relatable as well. Emma Youles and Josh Angel switched it up with a more anecdotal style, sharing stories from their lives about awkward situations including growing older, baby-sitting gen-z kids and unfortunate events in a Tesco and Flying Tiger store. Youles’ storytelling was impeccable, captivating the audience with great ease and it certainly helped that the punchlines resonated very much with the majority of the audience. This, followed by Angel’s hysterical story of what led him to finally get a haircut, was the perfect conclusion to Stand Soc’s performances for the night!

Sketch comedy was next up on the list and The Durham Revue had ample of it in their rapid, quick-witted montage of different sketch sets that were nothing short of brilliant. Ingenious plot ideas and surprisingly good voice acting generated peals of laughter from the audience. They had it all – embodying a self-aware, meta commentary on everything in life, such as a mobster gang discussing whimsical ways to kill people and shockingly learning about guns, a double-date Stockholm Syndrome situation, fairy tale characters creating a ruckus in modern-day society, and mistaking inappropriate graffiti for Banksy’s art – it was all simply marvelous. Great character work was the icing on the cake, and the effort from all the comedians to put up a great show was evident from the get-go. Jay Robinson, Alannah Ohare, Lex Irish, Marc Twinn, and Bea all stole the show at various moments with their electric performances; each of them had a unique flavour and they all gelled well together in every scene. It was quite stunning to see voice modulations between different scenes and even playing around with varied accents. Light and sound were used aptly and the use of an actual ‘pie’ and twisting it into a running joke was the strongest point of their whole act. If the whole joke was improvised, much more credit to them!

Last but not least, the stage was set for the entry of Shellshock who entertained the crowd with improvised comedy! After warming up the audience a bit to get the energy pumping, they started with their first set – ‘Story, Story, Die!’. Improvisers had to continue a story from the point where the other person left off until they were disqualified for incoherence. An NSFW story about a caterpillar was narrated which ended up being an amazing tale with a surprising character arc! ‘Superheroes!’ was the next skit where the improvisers had lots of fun deciding on how to solve the soggy croissant crisis with a few eccentric superheroes in the mix. ‘Pan Left’, a fan favourite, saw the improvisers juggle conversations between Alexander the Great and Harry Potter, disconnected brothers and a romance with squeegees that’s best left untold about! A segment called ‘Actors Interview’ was interesting as well, with a funny interview between a director and interviewer segueing into hilarious movie sequences. As improv tradition goes, the set ended with ‘sex with me’ segment – a punchy (and cheeky!) end to the whole show. All the improvisers – Molly Barnes-Tate, George Lea, Jess Harris, George Terzopoulos and Theo Mulraney were very charismatic and worked effectively well with each other, especially in the skit elements. The dialogue was tongue-in-cheek and it didn’t feel like it was on the spot at all; a testament to how good their improvisation skills are, indeed.

DDF’s comedy opening night was the best solution to combat the Monday blues and celebrate the week filled with incredible talent and shows. Here’s to more such comedy performances from the troupes and a wonderful week of drama ahead!

By Akash Sivakumar

Durham Drama Festival will continue throughout the week. Click this link to get your tickets for the many events in store, including six fabulous shows and an award ceremony!

Also keep your eyes peeled on The Stand Society, The Durham Revue, and Shellshock!, who each have many more performances and events lined up throughout the year.

Photo Credits: Durham Drama Festival