Review: Dropouts!

Gemma Sheehan 5 November 2016

Cambridge loves to talk about itself. Now of course, everybody loves a bit of late-night ADC self-congratulation, but it means that a show about being (or not-being) at Cambridge has to contend with a lot of other chat to be interesting. Dropouts!, by virtue of being set Somewhere Outside Of Cambridge, manages to joke about the experience in a way that was thus largely un-cringeworthy.

We watch two students as they adventure to the New University of Studies, finding new love, making new friends, and most importantly joining WakeboardSoc. Piers and Herbert, the lead characters – two living, breathing stereotypes – were actually both funny and compelling. Expecting to hate what I anticipated would be a collage of nauseating uni in-jokes, private school stereotypes, and ironic homoerotic frisson, I was disarmed by the chemistry of the two as they stumbled and shambled about the stage.

If Cambridge does love to talk about itself, it flounders when it comes to talking about other people. The Outside World was on the stage in the form of two characters wearing tracksuits, making jokes about drug dealing and absent fathers. You could feel a collective grimace wafting over the audience at these stereotypes. The writers will no doubt try to defend the characterisation as a satiric attack on the way Cambridge students see others. There was not enough in the show for this claim to be legitimate. And why indulge in such snobbery at all?

Despite this weakness, the writing was elsewhere excellent. High-quality writing squeezes its best jokes out of the least predictable corners of the script. The biggest success of Dropouts! was how, despite being self-consciously about types of people and situations we all know (or think we know), it managed not to vomit up the same gags that we have heard time and time again.

Despite the fact that it arguably runs out of steam in its latter half, and some poorly handled politics, the show must be given great credit for talking about the predictable in unpredictable ways, as well as for making the snoozefest of uni banter as silly as it really should be.