University revues never die – their unique themes and unforgettable sketches endure past closing night. Womn’s Revue 2021 refused being consigned to history, returning for only one fateful night this year at the Sydney Comedy Festival. A testament to its success last year, and the widespread appetite for student-led sketch comedy, the Factory Theatre was overflowing with attendees.
The Prince ‘1999’ opening was a psychedelic punch, immediately drawing the audience in with spirited choreography and garish costumes. The cast sustained their infectious energy throughout the hour-long show, never faltering whilst capering across the stage – I imagine they slept soundly that night. Although the 1990s theme was not weaved strongly throughout the sketches – not necessarily a flaw — the noughties motif manifested best in the throwback tunes that demanded the audience groove.
The revue’s writing was masterful. Sketches rarely relied on tired tropes, experimenting with archetypal sketch design. ‘Breaking the fourth wall’ was repurposed to inform the audience of a sketch’s context, as Sarah Doyle’s Christopher Walken impression invoked the conspiracy around Natalie Wood’s death. Later in the show, an audience member called onto stage was not only momentarily embarrassed, but fully incorporated into a scene featuring an HSC drama performance that benefitted from her very bewilderment.
The sketches were as diverse as they were ingeniously written. Toying with the run-time of each scene, sketches often closed in a surprising manner – with interruptions, song changes or even just sudden endings, such as Ochre Pastro’s quip, “I can’t come tonight, I have the runs. The VOCAL runs!”. The writing struck a balance between absurdity and subtle commentary, the key ingredient to an effective identity revue. Sketches broached issues such as harassment with a careful mix of levity and gravitas – often transformed into songs, such as upbeat lyrics which mocked sleazy men and Scott Morrison. Commentary sketches dovetailed well with those that were truly devoid of meaning, such as when the actors broke into an Irish jig to avoid a cockroach.
The show adapted to 2022, breathing life into 2021’s most fan-feted sketches such as the fare evasion 412 piece, a parody of the possibly over-played “212”, as well as creating timely scenes that responded to the federal election. Certain sketches from last year took new meaning in 2022’s context, such as Ochre Pastro’s entertaining rap portrayal of a Young Liberal. At times, some sketches seemed like Labor Party vehicles – perhaps there was scope for more nuanced criticism to be cast.
It would be remiss not to mention every cast member’s thrilling acting skill. The ensemble adopted the wildest of accents without hesitation, their conviction as humorous as the sketch’s content. Leah Bruce’s impersonation of Jennifer Lawrence’s forced friendliness, and Roisin Murphy’s imitation of a van Tiktoker with veiled anti-vax beliefs were so alive that the imitations strode beyond caricatures. I left the theatre with so many of the sketches’ punchlines, choreography and tunes playing in my head due to each scene’s unique vivacity. I imagine the curtain will not close on my mental images for quite some time.
My night concluded with a long queue for the women’s bathroom. I suppose some jokes will never expire.