Review: Footlights Presents: Pen Pals

Alex Sorgo 1 February 2018

The Cambridge Footlights need little introduction. Expectations are always high given their long heritage, sold-out shows, and alumni that includes some of the best and most famous comedians. ‘Did you know Steven Fry went here?’ is a reoccurring joke in the show.

Footlights Presents is one of four big annual Footlights shows and Pen Pals did not disappoint. It was full of wit, humour, and perfect comedic performance and timing. The show is packed full of sketches, skits, and songs. It stars five first class performers: Leo Reich, Noah Geelan, Emmeline Downie, Bella Hull, and Will Bicknell-Found.

The gender imbalance was a little disappointing following Footlights President, Ruby Keane’s recent spat with The Apprentice star, Claude Littner. Perhaps they can be forgiven considering the odd number of cast members. Although two-man band, which remained on stage for the entire performance were exactly that, two men, tipped the ratio to five men and two women. It must be noted that the show was made possible by the talents of Director Molly Stacey and Assistant Director Ania Magliano-Wright.

The theme of pen pals becomes lost at times and it can feel like a normal Footlights Smoker. It can be a little jarring when trying to work out what this sketch has to do with pen pals. The cast are eager to reinforce the theme with embroidered Pen Pal polo shirts. The lack of any costume changes also leads to some expositional dialogue to explain characters.  

However, each of the five cast members has an overarching character and their own monologue. In these moments, the genius of the show really shone through. Amid the comedy they dealt with themes such as loneliness, communication, and friendship. The best monologue was Emmeline Downie’s letter to her Spanish lover with her reading what she wanted to say and a voiceover translator stating what she had actually said.

The show made great use of various forms of media, from voiceovers to video and text message to projected backgrounds. The band also set Pen Pals aside from the usual Smokers. The music was entertaining in itself and the perfect way to fill the gap between sketches. The two musicians, Laurence T-Stannard and Finlay Stafford, are very talented. 

One of the highlights was the songs, which were specifically written for the show. These raised the standard of the performance above a traditional sketch show. The songs contained both witty lyric and a catchy tune. You will be singing ‘Dear Pen Pal’ all the way home.

It is billed as “the thrill of going through someone else’s mail without any of the risk.” Although, audience member, Stephen, might not agree as he was dragged off stage for a V.I.P backstage tour and sat on by an Australian art critic. If you enjoy ‘breaking the fourth wall’ and audience participation then Footlights is for you. If not, Footlights is still for you… just don’t sit in the front row.

The show is packed full of sketches which have been devised by the performers. Some were not particularly funny, but that is the beauty of a sketch show, that if one is not funny, then it quickly moves onto another sketch. However, humour is very personal, for every sketch that you do not find funny, other audience members will. There really is something for everyone and plenty of laughter all round. The best sketches were the Mastermind and Lassie sketches, and ‘The Queen gets a Buzz Cut’.


Footlights Presents: Pen Pals is on at 11 pm in the ADC Theatre from 31 January to 3 February.