Sophie Reason is thoroughly entertained by the Durham Revue returners’ show, fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe: Unnatural Disaster.
Even before Unnatural Disaster commences, there is energy and anticipation in the theatre; bright flashing lights and loud music capture one’s attention, preparing the audience for some witty, laugh out loud comedy. The 2018-19 Durham Revue work extraordinarily well as a team; with the framework of an upcoming apocalypse to work with, seamless movements from sketches inspired by popular culture to the entirely original are made. This variety adds credence to their ability to transition rapidly, whilst still maintaining a structure and fluidity to their performance.
‘Innovative, dazzlingly sharp… this show is a testament to the Revue’s well-renowned status’
The notion of the audience spending their last hour in a nuclear bunker whilst watching comedy creates an immediate connection between audience and cast. One becomes the subject of the comedy, and willingly gives into this, as the team interact with the crowd throughout the performance. This is enhanced by the well-chosen venue of the newly refurbished Assembly Rooms Theatre. It provides an ideal balance between a space large enough to hold a sizeable audience, whilst also being intimate enough to feel one is overhearing a funny situation or scene. This disperses the artificiality of the stage and enables a fully immersive theatrical experience.
Especially impressive is the way in which transitions, not only from one sketch to another, but between different members of the troupe occur. A clear ability to hold a central moment is displayed, whilst also being able to step back and move in and out of the ‘spotlight’ unassumingly. This is especially evident when one member is speaking individually and the rest of the troupe must act in unison. Their chemistry and synchronicity on the stage is superb, demonstrating the detail and effort that is put into constructing such comedy. The confidence with which the troupe physically command the stage enables one to comfortably fall from the hilarity of one sketch to another. A particularly enjoyable moment during the show is when Charlie Billingham and outgoing President Hamish Lloyd Barnes give the audience a ‘lesson’ in comedic transition scenes. This creates a sense of spontaneity mid-way through the show, and it is exciting to see such experimentally effective material.
It should be noted that the technical side of the show also aids an already slick performance, with the music being consistently on time. The utilisation of the projector for the ‘In Memoriam’ sketch, whilst the troupe is off stage, allows their creativity and humour to be presented in a unique format. It also serves as a reminder of the development and personal ideas behind all their sketches, adding a refreshingly personal touch to this spirited comedy.
A highlight of the show is certainly when two audience members are invited up; the unexpected participation creates a great sense of humorous improvisation and really revels in the troupe’s skills in bringing a scene to life. This, however, does not detriment the accessibility of the jokes being made. Rather, the power of this show lies in the dual existence of originality and universality. One senses that everybody in the audience is able to relate from a certain angle, drawing focus to the excellent choices of material.
Innovative, dazzlingly sharp and challenging to critique, this show is a testament to the Revue’s well-renowned status across Durham’s comedic theatrical scene. This being a returners’ show, one can thoroughly sense the connection and smooth teamwork this group have developed over the last year. In hope that the end of the world will not be happening in the too near future, I am sure that these sketches, varying from Noo Noo from the Teletubbies to a crusade scene, will keep us laughing even with the prospect of an apocalypse!
Photography by Samuel Kirkman