Law students may be known for many things, but having a sense of humour isn’t usually one of them. Good thing then, that the majority of this year’s Law Revue cast are not law students. It seems that theatre kids from all over Canberra were drawn in by that sweet, sweet Blumers Personal Injury Lawyers money. The law students that did participate seemed to be the kind who study it in the hopes that it’ll make their arts degree more practical, because there were some serious skills on display at the Canberra Repertory Theatre. This year’s Law Revue was hilarious, highly-choreographed and fun as hell: it blew our minds.
17 people wrote the jokes for Law Revue and the directors and producers are proud to tell us that this year’s skit-writing sessions produced over 300 skits, more than ever before. Of these 300, only 48 made it into the show, leaving us very curious about the 252 left on the cutting room floor. We can only hope for a bloopers reel.
The skits varied throughout the show, from an opening skit about nudist yoga in a Coles to a quip about the High Court being a bunch of stoners. (Get it, because it’s the High…) The majority of the skits are clever, even when they’re not necessarily about clever topics. Comedy that is well-structured and effectively includes several punchlines is quite a trick to pull off, but one that Law Revue largely achieved.
Last year’s Law Revue – the 50th anniversary – was so successful it was performed again at the Canberra Comedy Festival. This extra performance gave this year’s directors, Fergus Wall and Layla Brady, an advantage heading into their own Law Revue. But, they admit, it also puts the pressure on. They recount how some of this year’s cast saw the CCF performance and immediately started talking about what they’d do differently when they performed at CCF next year. Having not seen last year’s revue, we are in no place to judge this year’s. But, a lot of the comedy of this revue was independent of ANU experiences, the kind that you would expect most people to laugh at. Avoiding inside jokes is impressive, however low-hanging fruit can still taste pretty good and one or two more jokes about the ANU wouldn’t have gone amiss.
The jokes that were ANU-related were good: Harry Harthog teaming up with the Peaky Blinders to run a textbook racket and a Kambri Side Quest, where two sleep-deprived students must follow a trail of clues to appease an eccentric wizard man. The latter, of course, featured a Pokemon-esque encounter with Socialist Alternative (not its actual members, who likely couldn’t get time off from all the flyering). This earned one of the loudest laughs from the audience, reflecting either that ANU students like jokes about themselves, or that there’s something funny about SAlt.
But honestly, calling any of these jokes low-hanging fruit is a disservice. Apart from the SAlt dig, which is basically mandatory for any university comedy, Law Revue is a masterclass in subverting expectations.
The best example of this – and our favourite skit of the show – was ‘A Census Act’. The ABS comes to visit a nice suburban family, and we all have a chuckle as the consultant husband declares he’d ‘prefer not to say’ his yearly income. Classic sleazy consultant stuff, right?
Wrong. It’s a robbery. The nice old ABS lady draws a gun, and when the husband and wife insist they’d ‘prefer not to say’ where they keep their household income, she asks them how many children they have.
She turns and shoots one of the children, right between the eyes. The gunshot is loud. The child falls to the floor.
People laughed, people screamed. It was awesome.
But the talent doesn’t end at high-stakes ABS crime drama. Law Revue had a range of impressive musical numbers, complete with costumes and choreography.
We saw the performance on its opening night, when there are bound to be technical issues. Due to an audio mixing problem, the music was far louder than the lyrics. What we did hear was funny, but we didn’t hear a lot. We were also in the front row, near one of the speakers, which could also explain why the instruments drowned out nearly everything else. But credit must go to band director Ryan Yu and the musicians, because the music itself was good. Despite this, the numbers were fun and original, ranging from a Disney villain-esque song about plastic and car batteries polluting the ocean to a personal number about struggling with a UTI. This was just one of a few urine-related jokes at Law Revue, and while Woroni doesn’t condone kinkshaming, it was almost enough to raise questions about the writers’ personal lives and proclivities.
This revue quite possibly has the largest budget of any, coming in at around $18,000. The money appeared well-spent though, as pretty much every skit had costume changes and props. It certainly added to the range of the performance and while the actor must act, being in a different set of clothes certainly helps to further suspend disbelief.
Located in the Canberra Rep Theatre, the revue also took advantage of the more professional setting than the usual Kambri Theatre. A rotating stage floor was used for a slow-building skit on the invention of the Lazy Susan. It was a simple joke, but the physical gag of characters struggling with a rotating stage, and the build-up to the reveal was well-executed. The theatre also had an impressive lights display, but at times it appeared that the lights weren’t working as expected. There were a few times where actors had to find the spotlight rather than have it find them.
However, it is without a doubt the actors who make a performance, and the revue had a fantastic cast. Everyone thoroughly committed to the bit, and we always got the impression that movements and actions were planned and organised for maximum effect. Particular credit goes to Cody Williams for his indecently-exposing meditation class, and his performance as a swing voter who swings in more ways than one. Director Layla Brady was fantastic as well, especially in skits that required some serious drama to heighten the joke, and her solo performance of the original song ‘Dream Girl’ was a pop ballad to rival Olivia Rodrigo’s latest release (on Spotify when??). Not everyone can bring manic energy to a performance and remain funny and integrated with the show, but Matthew Campbell certainly could. However, as much as certain individuals stood out, every performance was genuinely fantastic.
Directing a revue seems like a daunting task. With everyone pitching in to write, no doubt people become attached to their skits, and if group work in class is anything to go by, sorting through feedback and considering alternatives is a challenge. Wall and Brady both acknowledged this, but added that the process goes two ways: they respect cast-members’ ideas, and cast-members respect that a decision must eventually be made. That trust evidently paid off.
Revues inhabit a real ecosystem at the ANU and at universities beyond. It’s a fun place to see students perform, and to participate in shared humour about things we’ve all experienced. Everyone is kitschy and low-budget and that is part of the joy. This one, though, went beyond that to something that felt like it would be funny for anyone. The comedy was well-structured, and what was likely a quick idea has been fleshed out and developed. Most skits were unified by the fact that they were unexpected, but fit seamlessly, to the point where the build-up is obvious only after the fact. It felt less like jokes written up by friends and peers, and more actual comedy. Who knows what qualifies you for the Canberra Comedy Festival, but this must be a big part of it. In short, all was funny in ANU Law Revue 2023.
Law students may be known for many things, but having a sense of humour isn’t usually one of them.