The Oxford Revue, The Cambridge Footlights and The Leeds Tealights, three of the most respected student comedy groups in the country, boast many of the nation’s favourite comedians amongst their alumni and some of higher education’s finest young talent amongst their current membership. Coming together at The Oxford Playhouse for one night only then, their collaborative show promised much. Presenting sketches ranging from the surreally bizarre to the hysterically satirical, The Oxford Revue and Friends did not disappoint. Each comedy troupe took their turn; the work of the Lights, both Tea and Foot, made up the first half, with the Revue, understandably in their home city, taking the entire second.
The majority of the Tealights’ skits are short, sweet and laudably well-judged, lasting just long enough to engage the audience but perennially leaving one wanting more. They have refined the art of sketch comedy perfectly; if something was not to the audience’s taste, it was over within a minute and their next effort was bound to please. Of their four comedians, George Howard will undoubtedly leave the most lasting memories. He combined versatility with a tangible style, somehow correlating the two and delivering a stellar comic performance; a piece involving him and Robin Leitch as a cash-strapped Auntie Mabel and Pippin from the BBC’s Come Outside was arguably the Tealights’ funniest sketch, although a brief skit involving a family reacting to their grandmother’s death and the Dizzee Rascal song ‘Bonkers’ runs it close.
Unlike their northern contemporaries, the Footlights preoccupied themselves with the extended sketch. This is a risky approach to sketch comedy, as its inevitable hit-and-miss nature can be amplified considerably. Designed well, a lengthy piece can leave the audience in hysterical laughter for minutes on end, but done badly, the ensuing long periods of awkward silence can mar an entire show. So it was with the Footlights. Their painfully unfunny misses include a sketch about a ghost that provided financial advice, which is just too surreal to be amusing, whilst their hysterical hits include a brilliantly intelligent conversation between a frustrated Angel Gabriel and a thoroughly entertaining Almighty, and the show’s finest item: an utterly hilarious Severus Snape (Archie Henderson-Cleland) performing a self-pitying lament with a children’s keytar.
Of the three groups, The Oxford Revue was undoubtedly the most entertaining. Their large ensemble provided diversity and fluidity and a multitude of praiseworthy performances, notably from Barnaby Fishwick and Will Hislop, ensured big laughs throughout. Their material is, for the most part, creditably well-judged, only occasionally touching the dubious realm of the surreal but always pushing the envelope: a dialect coach with accents of questionable accuracy, a farcical encounter between a man and two women (one of whom wanted his final oven and the other, his fine lovin’), and a witty finale featuring two explorers, who travel to the centre of the earth just to use the immortal line: ‘Well, I guess everything does revolve around me then.’
Hosted by acclaimed four-man comedy company The Beta Males, whose polished, dynamic and witty sketches sprinkled the show throughout, and with gentle backing music provided by Los Jazzbags, this collaborative effort was undoubtedly an enormous success. The future of British alternative comedy is undeniably secure.