Review: Peterhouse Smoker

Daniel Rowe 15 November 2012

Peterhouse Smoker

Friends of Peterhouse Theatre, 9pm, Wed 14 Nov

“AmDram” is a phrase one hears a lot in Cambridge – perhaps unsurprisingly usually in relation to drama. But all too often we are allowed to forget that, within this phrase, is the word “amateur” – the usual high standard of stage performances in our university (and tourist) city often makes us forget that these performances are anything but professional. The Peterhouse Smoker, by contrast, did not allow any such wallowing in the idea that this was a professional production – but amateur, in this sense, is not necessarily a criticism.

Perhaps it is a bad sign, for example, when more material for your jokes comes from the audience in front of you than it does from the subject of your stand-up – but perhaps this is also a sign of great adaptability to the demands of the night in question. In any case our lovable compere Milo (with his memorable double-breasted shirt and tight red jeans) began, in this vein, by pointing out that only ten of us had turned up to see the ‘gig’ – in fact, there were probably closer to 12 of us – while our well-rehearsed final act (all the way from India, I’ll have you know) promptly reminded us that “we took our time” to process and produce laughter in response to our acts’ jokes, perhaps a sign that this was not belly-busting humour, but jokes in need of a bit more development.

There were, however, glimpses of promising comedy. Christabelle Clark stands out in this regard. The only act of the evening to offer not stand-up but a monologue, Clark’s coffee-addiction-themed spoof wedding speech may have been reminiscent of material seen previously, but its refreshing difference from all of the evening’s other acts, coupled with a slick delivery (in contrast to the frequent “ums” and “ers” which characterized most of the gig’s performances) made Clark’s work – although clearly amateur – less awkward on the ear than, say, the very nervous performance by Ken Cheng which opened the Peterhouse Smoker.

Promise was also to be found in the humour of Mark and Brian. Observational comedy was key here. Thus, Mark offered us a satire on the oft-quoted notion of ‘transferable skills’, transferring the academic to the pub – and although his loudest laugh came from the audience member he picked on to introduce the various skills which he wanted to mock, the rapid succession of jokes, making versatile use of the alcoholic setting, and free from stumbles, showed skill in sustaining varied, but focused comedy. Meanwhile, Brian offered potentially the most insightful observations of the night, questioning our assumptions about standard advert tag-lines, and so rendering advertising laughable.

But these were glimpses of skilful comedy and not sustained periods of humorous genius – and this was characteristic of the show as a whole: good at times, but usually basic. Indeed, this was AmDram at its most amateur – nothing amazing, but with plenty of promise for the future. So, as our inimitable host Milo put it, “perhaps we’ll see you next time”.

Daniel Rowe