“If Britain had moose you wouldn’t have Brexited!”
It’s a gloomy Monday evening when I take my seat in the Oxford Playhouse. I have been promised a night of hilarity, silliness and satire courtesy of the biggest names in British student comedy: the Cambridge Footlights, the Durham Revue and the Oxford Revue. The groups kept their promise, providing over two hours of electrifying, riotous comedy which revelled in its own absurdity.
The empty stage in front of me gave no hints as to what was in store for the audience. This all changed when the gentle pop music suddenly gave way to our compère (Sophia Goettke), as she burst onto the stage. Goettke perfectly set the tone for the evening with a short bout of stand-up (did you know that the Germans have a word for ‘grief bacon’?) before introducing the first act for the evening, the Durham Revue.
For the next twenty minutes or so, the Durham Revue commanded the stage with a dozen or more sketches of varying lengths. Two aspects of the performance struck me as particularly impressive. Firstly, the Revue excelled in taking some of the audience’s treasured childhood memories and completely subverting them. A book-reading by one of the Teletubbies revealed how the group turned to drugs and sex work to cope with the pressure of stardom, whilst the parents of ‘Where’s Wally?’ were somewhat surprised to discover their son in a brothel. These sketches were personal favourites and elicited great bouts of laughter from the audience. The Revue also incorporated meta-humour into their performance, knocking down the fourth wall to deliver an impromptu comedy masterclass. However, the performance was not without flaws. The line between fully exploiting your material and beating a dead horse is a thin one and occasionally Durham laboured a single joke too far. That being said, their performance was otherwise superb.
Next up: the world-famous Cambridge Footlights. Their main strength lay in the sheer creativity and variety of their sketches. Perhaps the best example of this can be found in the group’s ‘Fair Trade Drugs’ sketch, which was perfectly executed. Unfortunately, one or two of the sketches fell flat and built to unsatisfying punchlines. A fairly lengthy sketch which took aim at the stereotypical old man declaring ‘back in my day’ had great comic potential but ended up as nothing more than an opportunity to joke about the ‘timeless’ style of Abercrombie & Fitch. One further, albeit minor, criticism must be levelled at the occasional garbling of lines and lack of projection which made it difficult to follow sketches and enjoy punchlines. I want to stress, however, that these moments were exceptionally rare, and understandable as the performers careered across the stage. Overall, the set lived up to expectations and was thoroughly enjoyable.
Following the interval, Goettke returned to deliver a second short set. She decided to open up about her morbid fear of moose before explaining the seven signs that a moose is about to attack you. I did not laugh as much the entire night. Her story brilliantly combined the ridiculous notion of moose being the ultimate predators with a cautionary tale about the risks of turning to google to alleviate one’s fears. It never ends well. Sophia’s execution was similarly excellent, her words supported by mad facial expressions and a flawless impression of a charging moose.
Then came the final act, the Oxford Revue. For me, this was the standout performance of the night. For well over an hour, a case of six or seven performers presented countless rib-tickling sketches. We saw everything from the Hungry Hungry Hippos having a family breakdown, to a wild-west duel between Mr Wippy and Ben McJerry. You truly did not know what was coming next. The Oxford Revue also wove satire into the mix, sometimes subtly, sometimes less so. Targets included the 2nd Amendment, Richard Curtis and, shockingly, Donald Trump. These sketches provided an excellent contrast to other utterly brilliant and bizarre scenes like, for example, a Christian book group discussing the theological merits of Fifty Shades of Grey. Even the performers could not contain themselves during the latter sketch as the audience roared with laughter. Whilst not every punchline landed and the occasional technical issue did interrupt the flow of the performance, this series of sketches was still masterfully composed and executed.
Overall, I am sad to finish this review by noting that this was a one-night only performance, but am grateful for the opportunity to have seen some of student comedy’s best performers come together to produce an exhilarating and utterly amusing night of sketches and stand-up.