Review: Footlights at the Arts Theatre

Harry Parker 18 April 2015

Three titans of university comedy – the Durham Revue, the Oxford Revue, and our very own Cambridge Footlights – came together for an excellent evening of genius and silliness. Bringing these big names together in the same space clearly invites competition, but thankfully the evening didn’t get bogged down in too many Boat Race, league table or University Challenge-related gags. A small smattering of these were of course very entertaining, particularly Cambridge’s final sketch, which featured a cameo from a new local celebrity, whose name, in the interests of tonight’s performance, I cannot reveal here.

Durham had the difficult job of opening the evening before the large, packed-out auditorium of the Arts Theatre. It was particularly interesting to see that the group consisted of mostly female performers, considering the Footlights have been male-dominated for the last few years, and they employed this dynamic for one of their strongest sketches, satirising female representation in comedy. Some of their content was impressive – the short sketches in particular were consistently on point – yet the lacklustre characterisation in many sketches left the audience less than enthused.

By contrast, Oxford were outstanding in their flawless delivery. Their opening sketch – featuring a TV presenter suffering the consequences of a technological hiccup – relied on immaculate timing to be successful, a feat they accomplished with skill. Subsequent sketches showcased some seriously impressive dance moves and surprisingly high singing from the male members of the troupe. Thanks to such brilliant delivery that even the weaker sketches, or those without an obvious punchline, were met with big laughs.

The immediate audience response to the Footlights made it obvious that they were on friendly home turf. As with Durham, the shorter sketches were some of the highlights of the show, capturing moments of pure – and ridiculous – brilliance. A personal favourite of mine featured almost no dialogue, just Luke Sumner and Sam Grabiner as a koala bear and his favourite tree. However, for fear of betraying the home team, the performance didn’t seem to quite match up to the technical flair shown by Oxford.

One stumbling block that all three acts struggled with was the difficulty in performing to an audience with a larger range of ages. With their accustomed student audiences, performers can rely more heavily on shared knowledge and interests, making references to popular culture and so on.

However, this doesn’t always translate to all age groups. As a consequence, Durham’s sketch involving Tutankhamun and a viral Facebook message, which I thought was one of their strongest, went clean over the heads of several surrounding pensioners who are clearly less well-acquainted with social media. Similarly, a reference to a ‘dick pic’ actually prompted the most accidentally hilarious moments of the evening, as the woman behind me turned to her husband and whispered (quite loudly) “I don’t know what that is” and he responded (equally loudly) with “Me neither”.

All in all, the show contained some of the usual slips and stumbles which are the occupational hazards of student comedy, but this did not retract from the charm and delight of a seriously good evening’s entertainment.

8/10

Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below. Footlights at the Arts Theatre runs until tomorrow.