Given that the Oxford Revue has produced many of Britain’s finest comedians, you expect that its members put the hard work in for their shows – particularly when the show is titled ‘Best of the Fringe’, and presumably has been practised and performed many times. Unfortunately, while two acts in this show were excellent (a magician and musician), the the stand-up comedians felt under practised.
Both Will Bearcroft and Olley Matthews jokingly downplayed the extent of their skills, but they were remarkable. Magic hands and audience banter are the magician’s secret ingredients, while the musician relies on rhyme, rhythm and reason, displaying some fabulously funny lyrics. Last night’s audience was captivated throughout their performances.
On the other hand, the two stand-up comedians, John Rayner and Verity Babbs, were not so successful. There is much more to stand-up comedy than walking on stage and telling a joke. A seasoned stand-up comedian once told me that it takes at least 100 performances (and countless practice sessions beforehand) to get his act right, and particularly to establish that crucial relationship with the audience. Reading off notes, as John Rayner did last night, is certainly not the best way to build this trusting relationship. Certainly not all was bad, as Rayner paused at all the right moments, and his giggles often prompted a similar response from the audience. While Rayner perhaps focuses too much on one subject (sexuality), Verity Babbs makes the opposite mistake, exemplifying why sometimes less is more. Cramming more than a handful of short sketches into a fifteen minute routine often did not leave enough time to fully develop jokes. The use of props was good but perhaps even here some of them (e.g. the ham) gave away the joke or distracted from it. Again, there is promise in the materials, but more practise is needed. The same holds for the host, Elaine Robertson. Some of the more scripted parts, for example on her work as a princess, were very entertaining, but she needs to work on her audience interaction and to anticipate audience members’ answers more to truly shine.
Last night’s performance was a mixed bag, but comedy requires performance experience to improve. If you’d like to help some comedians in the making to get to the 100 performances it takes to perfect their gig, go and see the ‘Best of the Fringe’ at the BT studio this week.