The Bristol Revunions are the University of Bristol’s premiere sketch comedy society. Nationally successful, they have attracted the attention and collaboration of other top-tier University sketch troupes. Armed with a cackle that has seen me offered jobs laughing in Fringe show audiences and the hangover to end all hangovers, I embarked on the ‘Revs and Friends’ end of year showcase. Accompanied by the Durham Revue, Leeds Tealights, and Cambridge Footlights, Revunions were once again set up to entertain a packed-out Winston theatre.
The master of ceremonies was Revunions regular James Trickey, with arguably the trickiest role (get it…). Opening for each act, keeping the energy high, and feeding off the audience entirely alone is a very different skill to rehearsed group sketch comedy. Trickey’s natural propensity for comedy and performance was clear, as he kept spirits high and the crowd laughing throughout.
Durham opened the show with a hilarious high-energy show that set the tone perfectly. From teaching the audience about comedic tropes and techniques – very easily done badly if it weren’t for the comedic talents of Hamish Lloyd Barnes and Charlie Billingham, to an extract from The Teletubbies’ Nunu’s autobiography – noteworthily performed by the extremely tall Bob Howat, the show was a riot laugh from start to finish. While the entire group were slick, funny, and clearly enjoying themselves, special commendation has to go to William Allen’s Magic Mike – in my friend’s words, “more impressive because of his athleticism, like, genuine gymnastic skill”. Durham opened with a set that had the crowd screaming for more, and not just more stripping (which Trickey dutifully provided).
Following from such a stand-out performance is never easy, as Leeds found at the start of their set. Despite starting on a rocky foot, however, they pulled it back impressively, with painfully recognisable character archetypes, including a series of posh students whose names rhymed with ‘onty’ (Monty, Jonty, Konty…) holding a fundraiser for the North. Their finale piece, headed by the undeniably hilarious Em Humble, was a series of recognisable musical songs reimagined about climate change. From Rent to The Little Mermaid to Les Miserables, the sketch was reminiscent of Edinburgh Fringe’s ‘Notflix’, and could easily be extended into a full-scale sell-out set – once the musical copyright is released.
The Cambridge Footlights are internationally recognised, with alumni ranging from Germaine Greer to Fry and Laurie and Monty Python. With international acclaim and reputation comes a reputation that is almost insurmountable. Whether it was their relatively small troupe (three rather than the other groups of five to seven performers), their position after the interval or directly before the home group, Revs, or simply nerves that got the better of them, unfortunately for the Footlights this was sink, not swim. With too many niche references which really could have used more set-up in juxtaposition to jokes that just went on a few lines too far, the group unfortunately never quite hit their mark. They continued with admirable energy and stage-presence, but sadly the jokes simply fell a little flat.
Closing the show were the ever-funny Revs. With jokes spanning from audience participation to the old “three people in a trench-coat” classic silent film comedy gag, the group surpassed expectations. The true challenge of performing at home is not garnering audience attention, as the Bristol crowd were ravenous for our old familiar comedy, but exceeding expectations. Will the crowd only cheer as they recognise their friends and colleagues, or has the show truly tickled? Thankfully, Revs provided a genuinely funny performance, with exaggerated performances, dry wit, and an endless well of energy. Rosa Handscomb and Ismay Bickerton are stand-outs, with deadpan performances to rival French and Saunders – I will never not laugh at “how big is that lady?”. You come to expect repeated sketches when you are familiar with a troupe, but I was pleasantly surprised by a wealth of new material to me, and of course the Revunions classic physical comedy, especially pertinent with the hilarious Super Special Secret Friendship Handshake.
The night cured my hangover, brought tears to my eyes, and made my face and stomach hurt from laughter. There is nothing more you can hope for from student comedy, and I wish them all many more years of entertaining audiences as ready to laugh as I am.