There’s something strange happening in the Law Building these days. Several times a week, a group of students can be seen together laughing hysterically, dancing, singing, and playing with text, multimedia, props and costumes. Far from messing around, these students are hard at work bringing their creative talents to bear on the 2014 Melbourne University Law Revue, the annual sketch comedy show written, directed and performed entirely by the cast, who hail from various faculties. The show has a long and impressive pedigree, and by bringing together the University’s finest and funniest, it’s little wonder the Melbourne Uni Law Revue has provided a springboard for some of the names in Australian comedy. The roll call includes (to name just a few) Barry Humphries, Steve Vizard, Magda Szubanski, Sammy J, and the people behind Working Dog, who went on to make Australian classics like The Castle and The Dish.
As established as the Revue is on the comedy circuit today, it certainly hasn’t always been that way. In 1977, the Law Revue had ceased to be a feature on campus, but was revived by a group of University students. Among them were Steve Vizard, Roger Wallace, Simon Copper, Kate Legge, Steve Nankin, Geoff Street, and Tony Rickards, who vividly recalls being approached to take part. “I was a straight actor at the time, and initially I didn’t want to be involved,” says Rickards. “So I told Steve Nankin that if he paid me what I would lose from not being able to work part-time at my bottle-shop job, I’d act for him. I thought that would be good enough to get rid of him but he came up with the money and called my bluff, and so that actually turned out to be the first professional engagement of my acting career.”
Like so many cast members since, most of the Revue class of ‘77 discovered their passion for entertainment through the show, and maintain connections to the production today. The Vizard Foundation (established by Steve Vizard) helps to nurture the various creative talents of the Melbourne and Monash Revues, providing writing and performance workshops led by established names in the industry, among them Francis Greenslade, Frank Woodley, Shaun Micallef, and Vizard himself. “They’re fantastic,” says James Bolt, one of this year’s cast members. “Once you get over the fact you’re five metres from Shaun Micallef, you realize the level of genius at work in his approach to comedy. Then you walk away looking at your fellow cast members just going ‘we’re next up.’”
In addition, old hands like Rickards continue to offer more personal guidance and feedback during the production stages. “Tim McDonald [the 2014 Revue Director] is a real sweetheart, a man after my own heart” he tells me, remarking on the director’s emphasis on theatrical quality, as well as the quality of the content. Rickards notes that comedy as an industry is far more lively now, and the recent approach to Revues is different than in his day, as the cast are now also the writers of the entire show, making the cast numbers leaner and the skills of the team on the whole more rounded. But the fundamentals are as clear as they ever were, he says with nostalgia; the commitment to the creative process, the passion for entertainment, and the energy and enthusiasm of the cast. “It’s great to keep that sort of association with the Revue after all these years, and feel safe knowing that it’s going to be another great year for the Revue.”
This year’s show, This Is So Unexpected, looks set to earn the name. Will Thomas the Tank Engine come through for James Bond and Sodor? Will Bear Grylls make it out of a party alive? Will the characters from Cluedo actually find out who killed Dr. Black? And most importantly, what is that thing that was so unexpected?
This Is So Unexpected will run on 21, 22, 23, 28, and 29 August at the Lithuanian Club, Errol Street, North Melbourne. Tickets are available from the Law Revue.