The Oxford Revue and Friends – A review

This article first appeared on The Oxford Student website on 12 June 2016.

People who say Oxford is no laughing matter are very much not the target audience of The Oxford Revue and Friends, Saturday night’s showcase for the city’s hottest up-and-coming comics. Also featuring appearances from the Leeds Tealights and the Cambridge Footlights, as well as hot new stand-up Phil Wang, the evening felt like a promise of things to come – we were watching live what would likely end up on ‘best of’ compilation videos thirty years later. Fresh, witty, and raucously entertaining, this was a demonstration of the best UK student comedy had to offer, even if, at two hours, it perhaps needed a bit of a trim.

Phil Wang made an excellent host, cracking jokes about his own career (“it’s been six years, and I’ve just moved further up the bill”) and making easy banter with the audience. A rather mild introduction eventually gave way to some whip-smart jokes about racism (“it isn’t always black and white – there are shades of yellow too. I think I’ve just written a haiku”), and his affable stage presence helped to smooth the transitions between each act. The show’s first hour was split into two halves, with the Leeds Tealights and Cambridge Footlights respectively, before handing over to Oxford’s own after the interval.

The first half was overwhelmingly solid. The Leeds lot opened strong with a wonderfully grim bit about a girlfriend tied to the train tracks, followed by half an hour of similarly imaginative sketches. The highlight was a sketch involving a dude’s girlfriend catching him listening to Coldplay, (“It’s Arctic Monkeys!” “I would have preferred porn!). It perfectly captured the ludicrous yet pervasive power of music snobbery, and the performers delivered it with aplomb. The Varisty crowd were similarly good, with cleverly-written observational sketches about table football and improv comedy, although they were at their best when indulging their weird streak. Their best sketch was a slightly nightmarish dialogue about work experience in a chicken factory, delivered in an unnerving deadpan. Of the two acts, Leeds had the superior performers, while Cambridge had more refined and subtle sketch writers, which added up to an excellent showing overall.

The second half was a mixed bag. There was some seriously weak material towards the beginning, as some of the Revue’s newest recruits struggled with an overlong parody of student open mic nights, which had several good gags but lacked structural coherence. But once the old guard took the stage it was clear sailing right to the end, with clever scene after clever scene, including a genius riff on E4’s Skins and a Star Wars sketch worthy of Mitchell and Webb.

At two hours there were places where the show felt overlong – perhaps a ninety minute performance would have trimmed some of the fat – but this was a witty, subversive and thoroughly enjoyable evening. Well acted, creatively staged, and brimming with clever ideas, The Oxford Revue and Friends remains a highlight of the student comedy calendar.

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The Oxford Revue and Friends – A preview

This article first appeared on The Oxford Student website on 1 June 2016.

Most Playhouse productions are no laughing matter. Sitting comfortably at the top of the student theatre hierarchy, the Playhouse is a place for high production values and even higher brows. But in two weeks’ time the Oxford Revue, Oxford’s own band of student comics, will be taking to the stage in their annual show, The Oxford Revue and Friends. It sees them teaming up with long-time frenemies the Cambridge Footlights and the Leeds Tealights for two hours of sketches, songs and stand-up, providing a culmination of a year’s worth of shows, and the launching pad for a summer trip to the Edinburgh Fringe. I got to sit down with Revue co-president Jack Chisnall, who told me about the plans for the show.

“The show is a two-hour extravaganza, everyone is going to show off some of their stuff. There’s an air of competitiveness when you bring all these people together. But it’s really a celebration of student comedy, in all its amateurism, and the sense that people could take off from this. The format will be two halves. The first will be the Footlights and the Tealights doing some sketches, songs, whatever they feel like – we give them half an hour each to do whatever they want. And then they’ll hand over to us, the Oxford Revue, for the second half. It’s a chance to really show the kind of smorgasbord of what we did this year, dipping in and out of all the different shows we’ve done.”

“Working with the other troupes, I flatter myself that we all influence each other a little bit. We do a lot of shows together – we’ve met the Footlights three or four times already this year. This kind of show that we’re doing at the Playhouse gets recreated in Cambridge and Durham, and even in Bristol last year. So we see each other a lot – me and Georgia also went up against the Footlights at Varsity this year, so you see each other develop across the three years of your degree. So it’s competitive, in a fun way, but also collaborative. I don’t think we take ourselves too seriously. We all think that we’re going to make it, and that’s daft in its own way.”

“Performing in the Playhouse, well, without getting too precious about it, you’re very aware of the history it’s got. You look at that bruised and battered old stage, and you think, ‘oh, maybe Alan Bennett caused that rupture on the stage, maybe he dropped a heavy prop there’, or ‘maybe that was where Stewart Lee or Michael Palin performed’. It is, traditionally, where the Revue has always done a show. One is aware of the ghosts of the past there, so to speak. You’re aware of the really cool people who’ve performed there before you, and that’s what makes it so incredible.”

“There’s a general sense of being connected. You’re connected to the past, but you’re also connected to people who aren’t students. It’s full of townsfolk – they throw curveballs at you, as a performer. I know what students are going to laugh at, or I flatter myself I do, but you face different audiences when you do the Playhouse, people who don’t share that same set of references. It’s wonderful, because Oxford’s a great city, and you do forget, in a very arrogant way, that it’s actually a thriving town full of very interesting people. For one night a year you get to feel connected to this wonderful history of a city and a history of performance. The Playhouse is this rite of passage for us, and it’s very nice.”