REVIEW: Arts Revue aims for gold

This year’s The Arts Revue Games is first and foremost a variety show. Despite it’s topical Olympian title, don’t go in expecting the show to keep with this sporting theme. The revue acknowledges the Olympics is a grand show, and that’s what this is too - a show that’s willing to explore the offbeat, wherever they may take it.

In its return to the Everest Theatre (after last year’s season in the larger York Theatre), The Arts Revue Games has had to renegotiate its space - in this regard, directors Angus Rees and Reuben Ward are hugely successful. The Everest is a nice theatre, with a seated audience looking down at the cast as they perform. As with other shows that have to make use of smaller stages, Rees and Ward extend the stage outwards: characters including Olympian torch runners and gorillas weaving in and out of the audience across the night. In these brief moments of immersion, the Everest’s weakness becomes a strength.

If you’re looking for a thread that connects these sketches together, it’s surreality. From Darby Judd as a rather slinky cat to Maddie Houlbrook-Walk’s song about times tables, The Arts Revue Games is a show of strong, quirky ideas realised by equally strong and quirky actors. When the show does move away from verbal comedy (and it does), for the most part it continues to follow through with this surrealism.

This was highlighted best in terrific sketches such as a near-silent chess sequence, depending both upon the physical acting chops of its performers and an X-Files-esque backing track to elevate the premise into the ridiculous. A later sketch, featuring a DJ laying down a sick set using his phone, demonstrated the opposite - stripping the sketch down to the mundane as the DJ’s mother continues to call him, and in the process, interrupting his performance. As a fan of classic rock another highlight was Justine Landis-Hanley’s cover of “We Are The Champions”, an appropriate nod to the revue’s sports theme and also a refreshing change of pace.

It’s by no means a perfect show. The first act ended on a grand parody of “La donna è mobile”, but it didn’t signpost itself as the end of the first act. As such, when the curtains closed and the lights turned on, some in the audience were taken aback by the abrupt intermission. Through the second act it also became apparent that some sketches seemed cut short, whilst others seemed to carry on beyond a punchline - almost as if the pacing hadn’t quite been fine tuned. It was a shame, especially in a revue bristling with so many strong concepts.

The Arts Revue Games is a show of strong creators and experienced actors, and it does well without adhering to a framing device. There are issues, primarily with pacing, which by the second act seem endemic. When the show does settle on a sketch however, it’s allowed to grow organically to truly resonate with its audience. There’s passion driving this show and that’s the point. The cast are having fun with this show, and you will too.

The Arts Revue Games is currently being performed at the Seymour Centre until August 20th. Tickets are available here.

Pulp Editors