Walking into the space of the Arts Theatre always makes a welcome break from the student-infused world of the ADC and Corpus Playroom. It is an even greater pleasure to be in this venue and see it so competently filled by an array of brilliant comedic talents. With an overall aura of professionalism, sketches that consistently hit the mark and some truly stand out performances, the Footlights show manages to translate well from the amateur to professional spaces of the city.
In reality, the show is not entirely the Cambridge Footlights themselves, but rather a show of two halves. The first half showcases the guest talents of invited troupes, this week the Bristol Revunions and the Durham Revue, and the second half being Cambridge’s home-grown talent. The Revunions’ high octane, Britain’s Got Talent-style opening provided a suitably dramatic start that could have been improved if the audience had been able to make out the words of the voiceover. Their commitment to their physical comedy was the starring element of their ensemble, highlighted in a memorable Back Street Boys reunion, where the tragic physicality of a 90’s boyband was inhabited with surprising ease. That level of ensemble and obvious ease with one another made the Revunions a real pleasure to watch. A special mention must also go to the sound designer of the troupe, where clear thought had obviously gone into transition music that reflected the preceding sketch.
The Durham Revue also clearly benefited from being a regular troupe, with an especially slick opening sequence, establishing them as an ensemble, who each inhabited a clear individual stage persona. Their set was excellently paced, with a variety of styles that worked well together. I particularly enjoyed the self-referential moments between sketches; throw-backs to earlier moments in the set really elevated the Durham Revue, making the set feel cohesive. Special credit goes to whoever decided to follow one repeated sketch with Britney’s iconic line “oops I did it again”. Sketches were well aimed, with pop culture references to Harry Potter, Go Compare and Narnia well pitched to a diverse audience. In this vein, a particular congratulations must go to the orator of the Teletubbies ‘Noo-noo’ autobiography, a beautifully delivered satire of celebrity culture, executed with pitch perfect tone, and an enviably straight face.
By their nature, the Footlights’ half was less cohesive as an ensemble, featuring a cross section of Cambridge talent from throughout the year, rather than a regular troupe. However, this showcasing of talent really emphasised the sheer diversity that the Cambridge comedy scene has come to know and love this year. The absurdism of Noah Geelan and Will Bicknell-Found’s dark, dark twist on Grease contrasted beautifully with the social satire of Emmeline Downie and Leo Reich’s book club. The latter two must be applauded for their inhabitation of character, with excellent voice work and physicality. Again, the ebb and flow of sketches worked nicely, with a special mention to Henry Wilkinson for breaking the pattern with some excellently inhabited character comedy, momentarily transforming the Arts Theatre into a BBC Radio 4 comedy recording, complete with smut and brilliant audience interaction. Alex Franklin’s take on life in the Cluedo House was also met with particular applause: his absurdism and use of subversion worked extraordinarily well alongside such insightful observations as “the Cluedo house has no bedrooms!”. Trust me, it works surprising well in context. As a collective, all members of the Footlights had obviously put time and effort into their work, although some scenes had become a bit less tight over time, with the occasional dropped line. Yet despite this, the variety of styles which nearly always landed perfectly was a sheer delight and appealed across the audience.
The evening itself was a fantastically enjoyable event. The time distribution between the three groups worked well, and the real pleasure came from the variety of talent on offer. Occasionally, it was not always clear when a sketch or segment had finished – with my friend at one point asking me if that was it from one group, and hoping there was more to come! Next weekend’s line up will differ in the guest troupes, but if the quality of this Sunday’s show is anything to go by, it will be an event to watch for. For a real break from the theatrical bubble and a solid night of varied comedy, go get yourself to the Arts Theatre.