Turning up to the Oxford Revue’s newcomers’ production last night, I felt that the cast of Keeping Up Appearances had set themselves up for a hard task: entertaining stony faced undergraduates in 8th week who were already tentatively clinging to their morale and general goodwill. However, I need not have worried. For a production with a fairly minimalist marketing strategy (and by that I mean I hadn’t seen it marketed anywhere other than Facebook), I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted with a lively audience that almost filled the Pilch. The stage had been assembled in a basic end-on format, and there was little decoration to the black box theatre other than a few chairs.
The production opened with a quick sketch about eliciting a confession from a criminal, followed by an abrupt break in the fourth wall, where the newcomers introduced themselves directly to the audience. This trend of playing with the conventions of sketch comedy was utilised throughout the whole show with varying degrees of success, but I felt that after such a punchy opening act, this initial address fell rather flat. After establishing the conceit that this was a newly diverse cast for the Oxford Revue, with a ‘token asian’, ‘token ginger’ and ‘token lesbian’ (“sorry, ‘bisexual’”), and a hefty serving of white men, the theme of identity, and this playing with the audience’s awareness of it, was never touched again and was perhaps an opportunity wasted.
To the troupe’s credit, the sheer range of comedy provided in the almost 20 mini-sketches they performed was commendable, and the chemistry between certain members was a true joy to watch. Standout performances came from Emily Bell and Chris D’Silva, who had their comic timing down to a tee (no easy feat on opening night, it has to be said). However, the production as a whole was marred by the lack of resolve to many of the sketches – concluding one-liners missed their mark, accents were occasionally shaky, and because so many mini-pieces were attempted, it felt like they were unable to be fleshed out properly (such as parodies of Louis Theroux and James Bond). A few of the sketches had an over-reliance on swearing or shouting as the main gag, which I felt for such a creative team could have been avoided.
Overall, while some of the acts appeared under-developed, the Revue put on a really enjoyable evening, and warmed even my shrivelled 8th week soul. The originality and energy shown by the cast did not go unnoticed, and this was an admirable entrance onto the Oxford comedy scene.