Footlights Spring Revue 2010: People Watching

Giulia Galastro 4 March 2010

 ADC Mainshow, 7.45pm Tues 2nd-Sat 6th March 2010


‘NONSENSE!’ booms Will Seaward, as Sylvester, the stentorian CCTV-operative angel, and proceeds to show us what he means. We are treated to a spectacle of humanity’s inanity – wrangling over restaurant bills, bullying, tedious conversations at work, black-cloaked relatives who glide about in clouds of dry ice – all of it punctuated by jazzy violins and illuminated by banks of televisions. Then God gets bored of his creation and initiates the apocalypse.

Some exemplary hit-and-run comedy skidded past in the first half, in a couple of super short sketches about a wedding and a surprise party. A serious documentary on the Norwegian cod industry descends into an erotically-charged slow-motion fish fight, which reaches its joyful climax with a topless, trout-headed Will Seaward straddling Adam Lawrence, an image I suspect will haunt my dreams for years to come. The first, smoky appearance of James Moran’s cartoon villain Uncle Malevolence is similarly memorable. These joke-blooms might, however, have benefited from some judicious weeding around them perhaps with one of Lawrence’s array of spades. The pay-off of several sketches did not entirely justify the build-up, such as the ending to Rachel Scrivener’s confession, which elicited only a wry chuckle from the audience. Although Seaward’s commanding presence as angel-compere reminds us of the framework of the script, preventing it from ever becoming a rag-tag gag-bag, the first half nevertheless felt a little flabby round the edges.

There is nothing quite like the End of the World to focus the mind. It is only after the countdown to Armageddon has started that People Watching transmogrifies from a delightful but disparate collection of sketches into a cohesive show. The second half is a glorious mixture of the satirical and the strange, with a nice bit about a hibernating mole as well. Impending doom leads Richard Dawkins to regret writing ‘Jizzing on Jesus’. The punster gangsters muse about how to spend their last hours on ‘oit’. A series of shady snapshots of ‘Mr Unce’s Big Day Out’, in which a scantily-clad Seaward attempts to buy several bizarre items, offers an almost Dadaist take on the Last Judgement. It is silly, but it is structured silliness, in a way that the first half was not.

These People were truly worth Watching. Tamara Astor’s characterisation was finely-drawn, from ‘fun’ Fiona from accounts to ‘totally random’ cheese-obsessive Pamela. The American – Jacob Sharpe – was adorable as lovelorn Archie, ineptly infatuated with Rachel Scrivener’s radiant Margaret. Sharpe’s bullied juggler might have been a topical allegory about Gordon Brown, or more plausibly a demonstration of his great skill at juggling. James Moran as mad scientist Dr Fandango, carrying out fatal experiments on a chicken (‘the clucking bigot’), vies with the aforementioned Mr Unce for the Melting Clock Award for Surrealism. LD Tony Dent deserves praise for the clever black-outs that pepper this scene, making the filmic joke of the deliberate continuity error possible for live theatre. Adam Lawrence enlivened many a sketch with flame-haired physical funniness, wriggling and bouncing across the stage with considerable verve. Dressed in voluminous sparkly harem pants as Ricky Tango, he is a believable harbinger of the apocalypse, leading the cast in a final danse macabre. It is Will Seaward, though, whose stage presence and voice-overs hold the show together, as he staggers about his upstage office brandishing videos for our delectation. His captivating performance means that, despite the protracted first half, People Watching does in the final reckoning earn the adjective extravaFUNza.

Giulia Galastro