Underbelly, 5 – 29 August 2010
Reviewed for the Oxford Times
If Horne and Corden are the Lidl of sketch comedy, and Fry and Laurie are the food court at Harrods, The Oxford Revue is the Waitrose: slightly higher than average quality and catering mostly to the middle class. That is, the majority of their sketches are either pitched at middle-class people, taking the mickey out of them, or both.
First there’s Neville Spank, a physical theatre practitioner in a black turtle-necked jumper, who incompetently purges his feelings about his partner’s infidelity through the medium of interpretative dance. Later, the idea of the “First World problem” is satirised through the hysterical reaction of some middle-class people to a shortage of balsamic vinegar. The Revue can’t even parody daytime chat show Jeremy Kyle without the help of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx (though I’m sure the said philosophers would be mortified that I am associating them with the middle classes like this).
The closest the group come to actually satirising class boundaries, as opposed to merely sending them up, is in a perceptive and original sketch about the north–south divide. As more and more northerly towns benefit from regeneration, the divide gradually creeps further north, leaving in its wake whole communities of southerners that until recently were northerners. The Revue asks: is there some sort of induction for these new southerners?
The show also features a strong line-up of TV advertisements parodied or otherwise made strange: a shampoo ad as directed by a French arthouse film director, for instance. The best — and, not coincidentally, shortest — sketch in the show is one of these, pointing out that Hitler, while not exactly telegenic, is probably the best advert for contraception that ever lived.
Many of the sketches overshoot their punchlines, some by entire minutes, and the show ends on a very weak note. There are just about enough laughs for an hour-long show, but they are by no means of consistent quality.