The concept of Footlights and Friends is a strong one. Cambridge annually invite the Leeds Tealights and Bristol Revunions for one mega-sketchfest, a chance to see where the beacons of student comedy are heading. So, what have we learnt after tonight?
Well, spiders are inexplicably trending. These sketches were highlights of both the Footlights’ and Tealights’ sets, with the caveat that Alex MacKeith could have been slightly more menacing. All the groups at some point veered towards the uncomfortably dark. But other than that, there was an intense variety both within and between the groups.
After an exceptional opener on the perils of Google Translate – one of the best sketches I’ve seen in Cambridge to date – the Footlights lapsed into unfortunately familiar territory: jokes about jokes that often weren’t quite strong enough to support the extra weight. The DVD commentary was a brilliant idea, but might have been better realised had we heard any of the sketch they were commentating on (other than the drawn-out devouring of a whole mango). Matilda Wnek was the exception, fusing a great character with brilliantly constructed comic poetry. Overall, the set felt like the germination of some excellent ideas, but lacked the commitment to see them into fruition.
Leeds presented the most polished performances – and even had the humility to mock their own actors. Their Pippin sketch was a favourite, a great balance between nostalgia, theatrics and a killer punchline. Generally ‘the shorter, the better’ is true of sketch, though, and some of the expositions could have been more concise.
The line between ‘hackneyed’ and ‘classic’ is a thin one: the Revunions kept on just the right side of it. Originality shone through their ‘Come Dine With Me’ sketch at the game of charades, and the 21st birthday speech was tuned to the perfect level of parody (rather than stereotype). Delivery, though, was a problem at times: speech was rushed, and some lines were drowned out (in fairness, I might have been hindered by the exceptionally loud laugh of my companion).
I couldn’t bet on the future of comedy tonight and be confident of any one outcome. All these groups are oozing talent in terms of pure ideas. It will, however, take longer than they had tonight for any of these ideas to realise the potential that, in moments, it was abundantly clear they were capable of.