The Footlights’ latest production at the ADC, Human Resources, is a late-night, laugh-out-loud, weird-but-witty treat. It is set in a cluttered HR Office: the telephone isn’t plugged to a socket, there’s no milk in the fridge, and the water-cooler is constantly in somebody’s way. The characters attempt to create some sort of a formality in the workplace by wearing synchronised shiny-sapphire ties, but they are clearly too distracted by the previous night’s drunken adventure.
The general mood is confused and chaotic; Will Owen says “There is no cohesion in this office”. On the surface level, there is some truth to that: complex and unrequited love-lines emerge as the show develops. But the sketches travel beyond their immediate physical setting and venture into more serious themes of death, religion, and politics in a surprisingly seamless fashion. Punchlines like “Woof!” are re-integrated into each snippet, weaving the fragmented sketches together. Like all good comedy, Human Resources craftily blends the familiar with the absurd. It pokes fun at the irony of flirting in a club – the music is always too loud for conversation, so even if someone tells you that her mum died in a car-crash, you’ll carry on giggling (plot twist: you actually heard that right first time – you’re just a psychopath). There’s a ‘Noah’s Ark’ dating show – only coupled animals can stay on the boat, so the perpetually single (and technically extinct) Dodo is kicked out.
There are some piercing political one-liners too: a news round-up featuring “The pound is worth less. The pound is worthless” had the audience roaring with laughter. The concept of a pair of paranoid Russians giving a tour of the Colosseum was my personal favourite; Jamie Bisping and Mariam Abdel-Razek’s rapid-fire delivery in “take a photo of us please on my phone” “password is 1234” “wait – stop – they know too much!” was a highly entertaining spectacle.
But some scenes were simply too reliant on referential humour, so it was hard to keep up with the cultural ‘inside jokes’. Others dragged on for a little too long; the ‘Unreal Housewives of Beverley Hills’ perhaps suffered from this. However, these ‘limitations’ were redeemed by the element of audience participation and the ambitious scope of the production. Just as there were exaggerated pantomime-like movements in a ‘re-enactment of child-birth’ scene, there was joyous singing of ‘I’ve wanted to be something special’, which momentarily transformed the comedy into a musical.
Human Resources demonstrates the vibrancy and the energy of the Cambridge Footlights. I certainly did not mind sacrificing a few hours of sleep to watch this production. “Does anyone know what we actually do”, one of the HR officers asks. Comedy, I’d like to say. And I would add: you do it really well.