Review: Footlights Tour Show 2012: Perfect Strangers

Bryony Clarke 16 June 2012

Footlights Tour Show 2012: Perfect Strangers

ADC Mainshow, 7.45pm, until Sat 23rd June

The Cambridge Footlights Tour Show, this year entitled ‘Perfect Strangers’, annually enjoys with minimal marketing effort the status of a must-have ticket. It is the most widely acclaimed, highly anticipated show of the year from the ‘most renowned sketch troupe of them all’. So as you can imagine, there was little feeling in the ADC of ‘let’s give these guys a chance’. Students they may be, but their reputation precedes them and audience expectations were high and demanding.

And, by the end of the night, not disappointed. A superbly executed, highly energised rollercoaster ride of a sketch show was delivered by the five stars, more than justifying their worldwide repute. The humour ranged from macabre to cerebral to slapstick, and never waned from its unrelenting hilarity. It was, simply, fantastically funny, without a weak link in either the sketches or the cast. First year Emma Powell deserves a mention for her mesmerisingly diverse array of facial expressions, while Jason Forbes also proved to be a most gifted physical comedian. George Potts had the ability to draw gales of laughter from the audience from just his gait.

There was no one sustained narrative or link connecting each sketch and yet there was never any sense of fragmentation; the pacy and smooth scene changes rendered each transition seamless and natural. The sketches were moreover united by a recurring and successful formula: identify certain tropes of a genre, then rigorously subvert them; establish audience expectations, then thoroughly shatter them. Each sketch culminated in a final, often peculiar, unexpected twist.

The comedy continuously veered towards absurdity, achieved by the constant positioning of the prosaic against the surreal; a particularly memorable sketch in which a politician was opening a new community centre developed into a scene which would not have been out of place in James Cameron’s ‘Aliens’. Another sketch had characters reading their Christmas ‘Round-Robin’ letters, before one started communing in a Parseltongue-like language “with the spiders”. In this sense, madness and absurdity were constantly simmering under the veneer of the ordinary. Bastions of urbane middle class life, from subtitled films to organic beans, were turned on their heads with a dash of the bizarre and a touch of the surreal.

The five performers thus accede to the Footlights reputation as a subversive comic force; one that ruthlessly mocks and dismantles both theatrical and social conventions. A trip to the ADC this week will certainly be well worth it, offering fresh and original comedy that is qualitatively different from what we have seen before.

Bryony Clarke