Review: Footlights and Friends

Adam Thelwall 25 February 2013

You might think that the variety and range of characters and scenes in a sketch show could not be enriched merely by adding some new comedians from different cities. You would be wrong. The Cambridge Footlights were sterling as always; but the contrast to the (equally funny) Bristol Revunions was a surprise. And once more the Leeds Tealights reinvigorated the show without breaking the chain of laughter.

The home team opened up the show with a series of long and meandering sketches which were brilliantly written to constantly change direction in unexpected ways. A highlight was the ‘Milk’ sketch in which simply ‘running out of milk’ quickly escalates in an unpredictable way – the scale of such a scene is blown up more quickly than the audience can hold in their surprise and entertainment. Ending their set with an 8-word sketch: “I can do this, because I’m a ghost” (I’ll leave the rest of the scene to your imagination) the Footlights demonstrated their mastery over pace and scale.

Next, their west-country counterparts took to the stage with more aggression, stage presence and confidence than their hosts dared display. The Revunions immediately lowered the tone and parodies and impersonations dominated. As they descended into deeper silliness, they took the theatre with them –notably to a film trailer for ‘Fishermen – Where Fish R Men’. What made them so enjoyable to watch was their strong on-stage chemistry, and they were clearly much closer to one another than any of the other groups.

The all-male Tealights were the campest troop in the room. By contrast to the subtle details of the Footlights’ sketches and the chummy Revunions, the final 20 minutes were ones of deliberate awkwardness and unresolved tension. Their style of comedy – characterised by their lack of punchlines – required precise comedic timing. The Tealights performed with greater confidence and stage presence than our home-grown talent. From William Shakespeare’s career’s day to a bizarre almost-slapstick sandwich making sketch, the Leeds boys showed the most versatility in their acting.

Much more entertaining than a regular smoker, the specialisms of each group become clear when seen in succession. It was interesting to note that the Footlights’ used more individual performances in their show than the other groups, who had much stronger characters within them.

They had also clearly spent more time on their scripts and in carefully devising the sketches, at the cost of displaying less of the boldness and personality of their guests. Unfortunately this event comes round only once a year, but don’t miss it if you get the opportunity!

Adam Thelwall