The reason most amateur productions avoid comedy is because it’s the hardest genre of theatre to pull off. It’s amazing when done right, but painfully awkward if not. Nothing is worse than a joke met with silence in a room full of people, so as I walked down George Street on my way to watch ‘The People vs the Oxford Revue’, I was somewhat — actually, very — nervous about how the evening might progress.
The thought of a student comedy troupe would strike terror into the hearts of most people I know, and with the fear of there being audience participation of some kind, I pushed my way into a seat close enough to the stage to get a good view of the actors and their performances, but far enough away to hide in the darkness.
The Old Fire Station theatre was buzzing with a sold-out show. The staging was simple, boasting only an electric piano and a few chairs — though simplicity was not in store for the rest of the evening. The show consisted of a series of short sketches, most about two minutes long, which produced quick changeovers and kept pace with the audience’s dwindling attention. Imagine many, many short SNL sketches but with more peppiness, a smaller budget and no famous people.
The topics of the sketches ranged from Mary and Joseph in the doctor’s office finding out that Jesus is not in fact Joseph’s baby, to two female tennis players grunting at each other for about two minutes (this one probably did get the most laughs). The audience seemed to be absolutely loving it, with the woman in front of me actually bending over several times in hyaena-like hysterics. During the interval another woman beside me even described the show as even more “retro” than usual.
Inevitably in a show like this, some sketches didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. Pieces like the Teletubbies sketch, which offered a grim insight into the frankly quite odd TV characters, showed that the ability to produce quite hilarious comedy was there, but perhaps the volume of ideas and different themes required for such a long show was an overwhelming task. The mix of the absurd, dark and comedic in the Sims’ sketch once again demonstrated that the longer, more thought-out sketches were the ones to beat. That is not to say the writing wasn’t impressive. The sheer number of different characters was admirable.
However, what made the show wasn’t what was actually being said or done on stage, it was the actors themselves. Their enthusiasm, confidence and general professionalism made even the less funny sketches enjoyable to watch. Of particular note were Deborah Achaempong’s many different and impressive accents, and Alfred Dry’s amazing impersonation of a pushy and overly-dramatic salesperson. Every cast member ought to be proud of their performances.
My favourite of the evening, and sadly the person who got the least stage time as he was the host, was Jack McMinn. Jack introduced and ended each act with a Bo Burnham-style song on the piano, singing about Pret à Manger, sex on the beach and the Oxford Revue itself.
In his final song, Jack sang about the Oxford Revue’s famous alumni. There’s every chance that in years to come some of those on stage will join those very same alumni in the Oxford Revue’s hall of fame.