It’s in the nature of the sketch show to be hit-and-miss.
It’s in the nature of the sketch show to be hit-and-miss. That's what people expect. Yet the Cambridge Footlights can’t help but be met with high expectations, with alumni such as Fry and Laurie, Mitchell and Webb, and Mel and Sue. Their Spring Revue, made up of a full two hours of content (including a mandatory 15-minute welfare break), offered them ample opportunity to showcase their best bits. With each performer bringing their own style and talents to the stage, be that in impressions, physical comedy, music or accents, and with effective direction by Lewis Roberts, this troupe of writer-performers has a lot to offer and, at the end of a speedy two hours, the hits are what stayed with me as I left the ADC.
A few standout sketches spring to mind as demonstrations of particularly strong writing, including a song shared by Izzie Harding-Perrott and Jemima Langdon. Building on a solid setup, the jokes didn’t let up and the pair had the audience in stitches with a perfect balance of music, timing and physical humour. Langdon is captivating onstage with guitar in hand, with impressive comic timing and expression. However, her second song didn’t live up to the previous one’s heights; despite a promising first verse, it failed to build in any meaningful way.
Joy Adeogun, Barnaby Evans and Amy Mallows all showed fantastic stage presence and versatility in their roles. Evans was uncannily realistic as a tory toddler, making full use of his Johnson-esque hair, and was hysterical as Sauron giving a FIFA PR statement, defending Mordor’s humanitarian efforts with honour as he was translated succinctly by James Hazell: “We are aware of LGBT people. Especially lesbians”. Adeogun made a brilliantly temperamental and egocentric God, and Mallows had great physicality alongside Harding-Perrott and Langdon as entrepreneurial men putting a masculine spin on arts and crafts.
When the acting was at its best it not only elevated good material, but also had the capacity to rescue some of the ropier sketches: Harding-Perrott managed to make laddy prankster, Angel Gabe, an entertaining character, despite an unexciting script, and a rather formulaic improvised sketch was largely underwhelming other than providing a platform for James Hazell to show off his impressive command of accents. On the other end of the spectrum, a handful of sketches with clever or promising setups were betrayed by unconfident acting or uninspired writing: ‘emotional baggage claim’ showed potential as a setup, but the idea needed more working through, and a service that uses technology to curate your dating bio resorted to easy, lewd humour where it had potential for much more.
Certain setups and punchlines were recognisable. A ‘yes and…’ sketch about improvisation got a few good laughs but recalled a similar scene from Series 4 of BBC’s Ghosts. An office-based framing sketch lent the evening a nice sense of cohesion but, aside from a surprisingly enjoyable office-chair ballet routine, lacked laughs and failed to offer anything new to a relatively old setup. However, in many cases, the Footlights managed to keep ideas from going stale by putting fresh twists on old formulas. A man misjudging the tone of the situation and taking it to absurd levels with his interjections is not a new joke, but it was kept alive by giving the audience a jolt of nostalgia in its setup. Similarly, we were kept on the back foot in a sketch culminating in a workplace injury claims advert, by a surprising setup involving an unlikely romance between a serial killer and his showering victim.
Careful pacing demonstrated strong attention to detail in the running order and paid off in keeping the show dynamic throughout and offsetting some of the misses. Some of the funniest moments came from short, one-liner sketches, which were great for keeping the show moving and occasionally made a reappearance later in the show. A sketch about pens and apples was a bit baffling the first time (if there was an obscure reference there it was lost on me), but we were in on the joke when it resurfaced – a good example of how a sketch show can build a surreal logic of its own. An intense chess game was another example – mildly amusing the first time, it achieved new heights in its reprise.
This is not the last we will see the Footlights this year, and, if the highlights of the Spring Revue are anything to go by, there is much to look forward to. The Revue could have used a little more polishing, but then what sketch show couldn’t? Perhaps more importantly, the cast rallied admirably through those sketches that fell flat to deliver their hits with energy and astute characterisation. Playing to their various strengths, the Footlights served up more than enough laughs to leave their audience well and truly satisfied, and I’ll certainly be going back for more.
Photo credits: William Blakesley-Herbert