Review: Footlights’ Virgin Smoker

Alex Greaves 31 October 2011

Footlights’ Virgin Smoker

ADC Theatre – Tues 25th October 2011


A virgin smoker myself, the night’s opening sacrifice of a virgin shook me slightly; but the portents proved fortuitous. All the acts showed promise and some excelled.

There were many and varied stand-ups: several culture-crossing Americans, with a drawling account of parental abuse and an exploration of James Bond fantasies. An acidic critic of sick cats (not for pet-lovers) followed a rib-tickling but light-hearted mocking of Christian and coalition quirks; Pope fraping: hilarious. Some more bizarre performances: one comic entered with a literal gag, whilst another explained that a Jewish boyfriend is really the height the height of kookiness. A genuinely funny and original one-liner routine contrasted with a fantastically physical representation of Cambridge student dancing and drunkenly blunt chat-up lines; finished with a fantastic judicial punch-line.

The sketches were likewise entertaining. Three Austen ladies discussed hair down there, their accents contrastingly perfectly with their crudities. A trio of improvisers took their simple scene to Revolutionary Russia and the Opera House with great aplomb. A waiting room provided the scene for a witty and self-effacing look at pre-audition nerves. Dobby of the tennis ball eyes was reinterpreted as a vengeful elf to comic effect. Two sketches showed particular inspiration: firstly, a brilliantly irritating walking instructor teaching a teenager to drive kicked off the night, the hilarious concept bolstered by a great impression of the driving instructors we all hated. Secondly, a ‘cultured’ and manipulative audio-guide prodding a visitor around an art gallery, well scripted and with great physical humour.

The character monologues were especially strong. A nutty professor with questionable racial views stalked the stage with a restless energy, sliding from tangent to tangent brilliantly. An anti-feminist, upper-crust, conservative woman showed comic and perceptive insight into stereotypes and maintained her perfectly grating character throughout. My act of the night was a lecturer campaigning for picnics: he possessed great stage presence, leaning right into the audience’s faces and explaining with great facial dexterity his crusade on barbeques; brilliant concept with spot-on execution.

Finally, the two songs of the evening were dissimilar but both popular with the audience. First a driving instructor ripped off Rihanna, telling us to ‘learn to drive’. His manner was annoying, his lyrics repetitive: the audience loved it. To round up the evening, a fierce pianist gave a chastising reprimand of gum-chewers, in a creative and Minchin-esque performance; certainly one to watch.

So there you have it: a collection of varied but consistently talented young comedians. The evening was refreshingly original and I am certain these performers will have much to offer Footlights over the coming years. I implore you to be at the next Smoker: I’m hooked.

Alex Greaves