Reviewed: The Durham Revue’s Christmas Feast!

Jesus and Penguins? It could only be the Durham Revue’s Christmas Feast!

Durham Revue

Tis the season to be jolly, after all, and what could be jollier than an evening of sketch comedy? The Durham Revue are rounding off this term’s theatrical season with their Christmas Feast, a series of sketches based loosely around a Christmas theme – so plenty of sketches featuring Jesus and penguins. The show doubles up as a first outing for five new members: David Knowles, Megan Brownrigg, Susannah Temko, Jack Harris and Elgan Alderman, who are joined by Revue Returners Stefanie Jones and Fergus Leatham.

All the new recruits have moments of brilliance, but it is Knowles and Brownrigg who are the standout performers (cheers – Ed), both proving themselves equally adept whether cast as the straight man or carrying the comedic zenith of a sketch. Knowles in particular shows a talent for characterisation which elevates the sketches from pure comedy to stand-alone dramatic performances, and ensures that he remains entirely convincing whether as a lecherous school teacher or, um, a penguin. Both Jones and Leatham, although seeming to take a back seat for this particular performance, were also excellent, and I would venture to say that Jones’ turn as a stripper at a very unconventional Last Supper was, for me, the highlight of the entire show. Jack Harris also deserves a mention – although sometimes tending towards monotone, he was redeemed through some outstanding moments of physical comedy, the incarnation of Mary Poppins as a sardonic drug-pusher being a particular highlight.

This does, however, raise a vital point – that the energy which should be carrying a sketch show was often absent because of monotone delivery. A little more variation would have worked wonders in re-animating some of the longer and less overtly comic sketches. It is in these areas – the acting side of the show – that some members fall short. There is far more to good comedy than just delivering a funny line, and the reason Knowles and Brownrigg are among the most successful performers is their inherent ability to inhabit a character and make it believable, rather than just rely on the material. Other members of the troupe would have benefitted from exploring their characters a little more.

The sketches themselves were generally of a very high quality – there was a marked absence of the quick one liners favoured by previous Revue troupes, and as a result we were treated to longer and more developed narrative sketches. Although most of these were outstanding – the aforementioned Last Supper, Mary Poppins and Penguins sketches were my personal favourites – some seemed a little thin and suffered the perennial curse of not really having enough comedic material to carry them. The Customer Services sketch, for example, felt like a gratuitous vehicle to showcase Brownrigg’s (albeit formidable) talent for imitating accents, and could really have done with a little more comedy to prevent it becoming monotonous. I would also have liked to see the Christmas theme developed a little more – there is a lot more comedy that can be eked out of the festive season than retelling of the Nativity.

The technical side of the show was, as ever, flawless – the Revue have scene changing down to a fine art, and although I appreciate that this probably isn’t difficult with minimal props and set, it is pleasing to see that they are evidently aware of the necessity of keeping the audience engaged and not allowing enthusiasm to drop too much from the end of one sketch to the beginning of another.

The Revue’s Christmas Feast is a fitting end to a fantastic term of theatre in Durham – although still in need of a little polish, the new troupe look set to take the Durham comedy scene by storm and I eagerly anticipate their coming performances in the New Year. Merry Christmas one and all!