Within the highly charged and multifarious pool of drama societies within Bristol University, the Revunions are a relatively small fish in a rather large pond. Where some of the bigger organisations are the headline stealers, Revs often take a quieter spot delivering their unique brand of sketch comedy; and one might have thought that this would put them at a disadvantage when facing the relative giants of the Cambridge Footlights and Leeds Tealights, two sketch groups with a history of lighting up the Edinburgh Fringe year on year. But for ‘Revunions And Friends’, the show shared between these three, Revs put on their party hats to speed ahead.
It’s been a tradition in recent years for sketch societies from different universities to visit one another and share a platform, and the success of the past few seasons was again echoed in this show. The Leeds Tealights were the first to take the stage and impress the loyal Bristolian crowd. Their reputation for fast-paced and often physical comedy was not lost on the latest generation of Tealighters as they turned reality upside down. Firstly they introduced us to an overzealous safety officer delivering a health and safety assessment to First World War soldiers about to go over the top, then led us into a bitching match between supermarket adverts and showed us what an Uber-style spaceship might be like.
There were some eye-catching individual performances, but their best moments came when they worked as a group: for instance, recreating a ‘you wouldn’t steal’ advert for ‘THE LOCAL LIBRARY!’. Their final sketch was a hysterical performance of a school drama devised assessment about the evils of the internet, and was an excellent reminder of the way this increasingly notorious sketch group can make an audience clutch their sides with laughter. It must be said, however, that this came at the price of a few undercooked sketches, such as the ‘sex addicts anonymous’ sketch in which the punchline of a lost group leader fell flat.
What was strange about the night was that the most famous sketch troupe of them all, the Footlights, were the weakest of the bunch. The three actors sent down from East Anglia delivered an ever-so-slightly drab set in which the audience’s laughter never really managed to take off. One sketch, for instance, featured John Malkovich complaining to a casting panel that he hadn’t been cast in ‘Being John Malkovich’ – a fine premise – but the jokes never moved far beyond listing other actors who could play the part. Another featured a political debate between someone who wants to make the children of Britain healthy and someone who merely contradicted him, without the further absurdist twist that a sketch like that begs for. There were, as ever, some good ideas to display, but the actors failed to fill the space with their presence and left the energy lacking, and, together with some discordant punchlines, the Footlights were a shadow of their own name.
But then came the Bristol Revunions. In the past the Revs have often played second, third or thirteenth fiddle to the likes of these two, but this performance put them firmly in first place. They surged onto the stage like a hurricane, each performer bringing a sparkling energy that immediately picked the laugh rate up off the floor. From finding the city of Bruges lodged up a man’s rectum to two hand dryers being trumped by a Dyson, Revs scored a whole bucket of brownie points with the crowd with their absurdity, their confidence and the precision of their timing. Even the more basic ideas – such as literally putting money on a horse and not understanding how to make money from it – were carried off with aplomb, and not the smallest of jokes was lost on the crowd. Home advantage clearly paid off for them as they turned an occasionally uncertain night of comedy into a hailstorm of laughter.
This was a very enjoyable night of sketch comedy that marched through slow patches to find its way to the mighty Revs, who, while on home turf, ought to celebrate their time in the sun.