Sadly unable to watch the opening night, what was shaping up to be a good old evening of work was saved by a fun few hours of Footlights comedy when I was offered a last minute ticket. All in all, the Footlights 2022 Spring Revue was a right chuckle. From where I was sat, it seemed the rest of the audience agreed.
Perusing the show’s advertising over the previous three weeks, I was slightly puzzled as to where the Footlights of 2021-22 were going to take this show. “When life gives you lemons” could lead you anywhere really. In the end, while technically leading to “Andy juice” (lemonade), the lack of a coherent concept seemed to be the concept. The show is set in a lemon factory whose workers revert to entertaining themselves with sketches after being plunged into in a lime-induced lockdown. Pretty bizarre and tenuously linked to the actual content, the lack of coherence was funny in an absurd way. I would also say that with sketch comedy you genuinely don’t need a clear concept if the material is good enough and sufficient parts of the show certainly were.
I really appreciated the simple but wacky fruit-inspired set. The costumes, which consisted of yellow dungarees and made the cast look a bit like the Minions but in reverse, looked fantastic and gave them a silly togetherness in large scenes. There was some inspiring use of props, particularly funny was the use of a doll as a microphone during a fantastic news reporter monologue by Robbie Boyd. I think the show would have benefitted from more props as well as switching up the costumes a bit – sometimes a distinct item of clothing really aided characterisation.
The writing was very strong and made some challenging satirical points – Chakira Alin dabbing as a middle-class wannabe SoundCloud rapper was an under-appreciated moment in a really well-received sketch about a dating show starring bespectacled propagators of neighbourhood gentrification as the guests. As advertised, the show was wide-ranging in style, featuring some self-consciously cringeworthy ironic scenes alongside unexpected yet brilliant moments of musical comedy. While a previous reviewer was unconvinced by the sketch, I thought the song “ripping my pubes out” was bizarrely hilarious and an effective call-back throughout the show.
I was most impressed with the quality of performance. The cast all acted convincingly and with great presence. Apart from some moments at the start of scenes when transition music ended a bit late, set-ups and punchlines were delivered clearly and with comedic confidence. Sophie Stemmons playing a CBBC-style bedtime storyteller dramatically reading erotic “Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow fan-fiction” was a particularly strong example in my opinion. There were moments when the cast themselves were creasing from the absurdity. Ayush Prasad, as none other than Priti Patel, managed to just about hold it together in a ridiculously satirical immigration interview, which was one of my favourite sketches.
The main issue for me, and to be honest, probably the poisoned chalice that is being a member of a team of many funny writers, was the show’s organisation. At around three hours (interval included), it was just too long for my liking. When life gives you lemons risked repeating similar material, notably talking animals (although I did enjoy Andy Bucks and Mojola Akinyemi’s cow impressions). A fair amount of time seemed to be filled with pun-based shorts which I felt didn’t land as well as other sketches. It makes reminiscing on stand-out moments in the show more challenging, which is a shame because there were plenty. Cutting material that has been written collaboratively is a tricky business but I think the Revue needed more of this.
Unfortunately, there are only two nights left and testament to the notoriety of the Footlights and this year’s superb publicity, I believe they are sold out. Nevertheless, I would have encouraged people to go! When life gives you lemons showcases a lot of funny material ahead of the Footlights’ US tour. I have no doubt a condensed version will be a great success.