A review of a revue is a challenging thing, not only because it’s a mouthful to say. Watching students perform anything brings to mind my own anxiety of theatrical performance and a desire to know the regular lives of the actors who are probably more similar to me than either of us are to professionals. Add onto that the pressure of comedic performance which, because of the inherent awkwardness if it doesn’t land, makes you doubt the veracity of your own opinion, but it also leaves you wondering what to actually write about.
Sitting in the back row for the Friday night performance of the Women’s Revue, I gauged a lot of it from the audience reaction and so I think broadly it worked. This is to say, most skits received a plausible laugh and quite a few got a real cackle from groups. Only two sketches had anything questionable, but more on that later.
For the uninitiated, revues are put on by various extensions of student organisations, such as the Womens’ Revue, or the Law Revue. They are skit shows, and consist of a series of sketches which range, in this case, from the political, to the social, to the hyperlocal. The set itself is pared back out of necessity – it cannot change every five minutes – and props are limited to the essential wig, jacket or for this play, wand and rollerskates. Womens’ Revue, as acknowledged in the introductory song, is the first of the season, meaning this review must be taken with a grain of salt.
Revues are fun. They are the most fun if both the actors and audience lean into the kitchiness and the amateur aspects of it. Across the revue, the best performances were those where the actors were clearly enjoying the performance. As Directors Meg Dawkins (she/her) and Emma Tuckwell (she/her) put it, the “cast and writing team are the heart of the show” and I think this is what provides the eternal appeal of student theatre, that the audience, who can often relate to the cast, get to watch a group of people have fun for their entire performance. For instance, one overarching skit was that some regular skit was interrupted as soon as a character noticed any form of kilt or tartan pattern. The cast would then descend into chants of “For Scotland.” It’s the zany, wackiness that you find funniest only when you’re actually performing it, but the joy was contagious and it was this kind of kitchiness that I think the audience liked the most.
This revue had live music which is impressive for a number of reasons. Firstly, the trumpeter, Jess Hill (he/they) in the corner who also conducted the band must be commended. Having played the saxophone briefly in primary school, I can only imagine how difficult it is to both play an instrument and simultaneously coordinate the other musicians. Secondly, the live music underpinned a series of impressive and imaginative musical acts. Popular songs ranging from those famous on TikTok to the ‘Room Where It Happened’ from Hamilton were parodied successfully for several numbers. Not all were funny but I also don’t think they were intended to be, and the Directors were clear that aspects of the show are meant to be thought-provoking. Every one of them, though, worked, with lyrics to fit the tunes and no doubt there is some more musical theory to be unpacked there, but for the average watcher, I was thoroughly impressed. Apparently the songs were written collaboratively and thus are an achievement of the whole cast. Particular favourites was the sharehouse anthem to the tune of Frozen’s ‘Fixer Upper’ and ‘Can I Interest You in Centralism all of the Time?’
There is likely no perfect concoction of skits, but I noticed that those about the ANU prompted the most laughs. A Lighting McQueen skit about parking on campus, or about Mike who studies Computer Science replacing ChatGPT, did very well. Politics sketches will always be challenging, least of all because by the time a revue gets around to it, the ABC and social media will have thoroughly dissected the underlying material. However, a reference to Scomo shitting himself will probably never not be funny.
I would have enjoyed more jokes about the university experience, both because they were the funniest but also because this is the niche of a student comedic performance. Something about the unjustifiably confident bloke in a tutorial or Schmidt’s Tesla would not have gone awry. I imagine that there is pressure to always do something different from last year, but that was a year ago, and some audience members, like myself, are new to the scene. Oldies can still remain goldies.
The acting and singing were good. Comedy is always difficult to perform, as is an Irish accent which features in an early skit, and yet the cast did well at both. I did take a mild delight at deciding who clearly preferred the acting over the dancing and who was clearly there to sing, but being unable to personally do any of the three, I respect everyone’s commitment. Maddy McQuin (she/her) stood out to me as fully committing to each role and nailing the pantomime facial expressions as required.
At the most, I could only ever be consistently funny for five minutes or approximately 1,000 words. Three hours is a stretch for anyone, I feel, particularly if it starts at 7pm. I would baulk at a three hour play by professionals, and most stand-up routines go for around an hour and a half. It is, in short, probably too long.
I would like to make an aside about the quality of the audience. I yearn for the day we return to silent or near-silent viewing of films and plays. A group of people sitting next to us simply wouldn’t shut the fuck up. I don’t expect complete silence but one of them would, like a dog, loudly say “Ally” anytime a character said “Slay.” I’m as gay as the next doc-wearing, non-binary twink but Jesus did I want to hit a bitch. A similar thing happened when I saw Barbie recently and I believe it stems from being too saturated in social media’s incessant need for a joke every ten seconds.
In three hours of skits, there are bound to be some that don’t land perfectly. But, two skits wandered beyond the unsuccessful and towards the uncomfortable.
The revue had three skits about an ordinary person dating various Australian Prime Ministers after their time in office, which included Scott Morrison, Harold Holt and Julia Gillard. Gillard’s skit I fear became an odd moment of woman-bashing. She was characterised as a shrill, alcoholic woman and her famous misogyny speech was compared to a fight with what was implied to be an ex of sorts (bizarre, I know). The message was unclear to me, and fell into some deeply problematic tropes in the representation of Gillard, from her being an emotional, loud, complaining woman, to comparing Abbott to an annoying ex and not a misogynist who led the federal opposition and launched a campaign of vitriol and sexism that set female leaders back decades. Likewise, to liken Gillard to a stereotype about alcoholic middle-aged depressive women is both problematic and unjust. Gillard was no perfect leader and no perfect feminist, I am not defending her record here. But her misogyny speech was a groundbreaking moment in Australian politics and her success as Prime Minister was an important moment for feminism in Australia. That skit made all the wrong jokes. During the intermission, a stranger sitting next to us remarked unprompted about how the scene was simply “not it.”
I also think the revue would have benefitted with more Queer jokes, which is to say, it would have benefited from less of a focus on heterosexual issues and characters. One of my favourite skits was of two lesbian librarians using a series of literary double entendres to flirt, and the audience loved it too. Theatre has always been a Queer space, I believe both the cast and the audience would have found jokes about Queer dating funny and simple to write. Conversely, the skit in which two podcasting dude-bros confessed their homosexuality was confusing; a little more nuance would be needed to convince me that the joke was not the very fact that they are gay.
Comedy is challenging, and these two skits sit within dozens of others than landed well. It happens, and I would never attribute them to malice, but it must also be remarked upon. Overall, it was an amusing evening, with a clearly dedicated cast which the audience cannot help but enjoy.
A review of a revue is a challenging thing, not only because it’s a mouthful to say.