“A crowd-pleaser of a show well-designed for the average Durham audience…

Vous Revue (Ha Ha!) is the latest offering from the one-and-only Durham Revue. It’s their first full show since forming the group’s latest iteration in November. Having had only two months to write and rehearse this entire show, they’ve done remarkably well. Whilst their opening announcement might have been a bit cliché, the troupe’s high-energy dance entrance perfectly set the tone for the evening; silly, slightly camp, and very fun. The opening itself wasn’t as funny as it might have been, but once the jarring introductions were taken care of, the show very quickly got underway.

The intimate staging transformed the Mark Hillery Arts Centre into a very comedy-conducive venue. It took the first sketch for the cast to get the audience warmed up, but that’s to be expected of even the best professional comics. After this, the troupe found their stride, with the second hitting much more strongly than the first. There was very nice characterisation here too, particularly from Bea Bennett whose use of voice and accent perfectly sold the great lines from her character Valencia.

The sketches continued, and the next few left no aspect of Durham student life untouched – Too Good To Go, Durham Nightlife, and Gap Years were all featured here with some particularly good observations of lad culture. It must be said, however, that the subject matter felt somewhat repetitive. I worry that its intensity would alienate any other audience, such as those at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, but for a Durham audience this material landed very well.

The show was punctuated very well by several quick sketches, which gave it a nice sense of pace. For instance, one set in a clothes shop was a well-executed joke and its punchiness worked excellently. For me, Jay Robinson’s characterisation stole this scene, and left me desperate to see more of his interaction with the other characters.

Robinson continued to dominate the next sketch, committing to his delightfully camp scouse accent. This had some great lines, and Melissa Redman’s wonderfully sinister performance brought a lot out of the script. The twist felt a little too similar to some of the previous sketches, but the punchline worked much better than many previous endings had managed. Punchlines are notoriously tricky to write, so it’s understandable that these were sometimes weaker sections of the script. However, credit must absolutely go to the script as a whole, especially writers Teagan Booker and Jack Simmonds. It was littered with funny lines and was consistently well-received.

Booker and Simmonds cameoed throughout the show as two German(?) Eurovision commentators, providing hilarious comments to the cast, and in one case an entire advert for Activia yoghurt. They were so good, in fact, that I was almost left wondering why they weren’t onstage. Nevertheless, they added a lot to an already entertaining show.

In fact, the next sketch happened almost entirely offstage and this really really worked. Marc Twinn’s reactions here were very well executed to sell these lines. The use of lighting also really shone here. The show’s use of tech complemented the script and performance very nicely throughout. This is true of both the sketches themselves and the Revue’s signature musical transitions. Credit must go to production manager Henry Flack for this, as it was executed with consistently impeccable timing.

My favourite sections all came in the later portion of the show. From a very funny physical bit about Buckaroo, to an expertly written sketch featuring Harry Potter, these felt like textbook examples of comic escalation and variation. The Banksy sketch was good too, if not quite so perfectly structured, but it certainly grew on me and was highly enjoyable. I also couldn’t go without mentioning the brilliance of casting that was the Scooby Doo sketch – the cast’s resemblance to the characters was uncanny. This was typified by Lex Irish’s incredible impression here, which had me in stitches.

The Revue wouldn’t be the Revue without getting an audience member involved – this took the form of a workout video, with the lucky volunteer being managed wonderfully by Alannah O’Hare. I found myself wondering whether audience participation was being shoehorned in here for its own sake, but this sketch definitely had great potential, so I’m excited to see how the troupe develops it.

The cast came back on stage to conclude the Eurovision storyline, and awarded themselves a trophy. This felt a bit self-congratulatory, but was quickly superseded by a fantastically chaotic and high-energy moment with the entire cast, which really worked well. This callback wrapped up the storyline with a lovely ribbon, and the penultimate quick sketch was the perfect callback on which to end the show. It was brilliantly high-energy and felt like the finale that the show needed. Unfortunately, the cast then came out and took one last moment to unnecessarily add to the narrative. This was a shame, as this entire final scene seemed to detract from an otherwise great ending. That said, there was a very nice joke here with a broom which felt wonderfully original.

Overall, Vous-Revue (Ha Ha!) was a crowd-pleaser of a show well-designed for the average Durham audience. It was a great first show to kick off the Revue’s newest troupe, and they should all be very proud of it. Do I want to see what the troupe does with this material over the rest of the year? I do, I do, I do, I do, I do!

By Ben Bradley

Vous-Revue (Ha Ha!) will have its final performance at 20:00 on Saturday the 13th of January in the Mark Hillery Arts Centre