I shifted uncomfortably in my seat as the Everest theatre slowly filled on Saturday 17th August for ARTS Revue presents: That’s A Sketch by John Hughes. Having only personally witnessed the Law Revue, I was intrigued (and admittedly a little scared) about what offerings Arts students would have in the realm of sketch comedy. Nudity? Redundant metaphors? Niche references to Foucault’s Discipline and Punish?
Following a short, self-aware monologue that referenced the pitfalls of revue culture, my concerns were soon assuaged when a strong, balanced cast burst into view. Every inch of stage space was used well in a meticulously choreographed opening number. Directed by Natali Caro and Rhys Bellamy, the show’s bold promise of being a ‘bitey fever dream, full of satire, glory and only mild nudity’ was fulfilled with ease.
This was not a show where audience members were uncomfortably attempting to fill in silence with forced laughter. My qualms were eased by the light, and frequently obscure, thematic material of the sketches; which was easily accessed by the diverse audience. This included (but was not limited to): an ‘extra’ stealing the limelight in When Harry Met Sally’s faux orgasm scene, Thomas the Tank Engine feeling jealous of Gordon’s friendship with a bus, and DJs forcing the crowd to sign a climate petition ‘before the beat drops’. The confidence and very apparent comfort of the cast with the stage allowed the wide range of humour used to land not only safely, but impressively.
Despite having a reasonably small cast, the show never lacked comedic energy. The actors continually displayed their wide array of theatre talent and undeniable chemistry. Notable was Matthew Forbes’ stellar Kermit the Frog impression – a recurring character which spurred enthusiastic laughter each time Forbes opened his froggy mouth to express his undying admiration for Miss Piggy. Another standout duo was Liam Olsson and Jimi Rouge. The two sparked belly laughs in an all too relatable scene where Rouge played a clueless, over-talkative friend who followed his victim around, not knowing when to shut up.
Although all sketches were skilfully portrayed and readily induced laughter, they overall lacked depth. None of the scenes were politically themed, and although they provided welcome comedic relief; they also removed the potential for insightful offerings coming from the writers. Transitions between scenes were not exactly seamless, and at times this did disrupt the already off-kilter momentum between obscure themes. Yet, the time and care taken to change the set equally allowed for the producers’ extensive use of the mise-en-scene. The imaginative placement of props, construction of scenery through tables and chairs, and thoughtful use of lighting was a constant source of engagement; and a stark contrast to the many revues which use space in a more limited way.
A particular highlight of this production was the directors’ thoughtful inclusion of audience interactivity. Whilst most revues construct a vague sense of separation between the brilliant actors and the passive viewers, the ARTS Revue demonstrated a strong awareness of the audience’s presence – even having one member pick up a mop and become an actor in one sketch. This had the potential to come off as cheesy, or forced; yet instead served only to increase the room’s lively atmosphere.
The show closed by referencing its promotional materials through an 80s-themed dance number. A Back to the Future themed singalong almost seemed anti-climactic; the saxophone and electric guitar solos out of place. Yet much like the rest of the production, it was this self-aware, tongue-in-cheek humility of their own obscurity which made ARTS Revue 2019 so irresistibly joyful.
ARTS Revue was shown at the Seymour Centre on the 16th and 17th of August.