Comedy at Cambridge has an illustrious history and alumni, so it is no exaggeration to say that seeing an original show at the ADC may well be a glimpse into the future of British comedy. Certainly, there are streaks of brilliance running throughout the latest show from the ‘Footlights Trio’, Pool Noodles. It provides an hour and a half of consistently strong jokes, ranging from soberingly realist to bafflingly abstract. The performances are multifaceted and talented, with dance, music and inventive production design all used to maximise the laughs-per-minute in this fast-paced show.
The premise sees Kenny, an aspiring lifeguard, struggle through a year of training at the Hardwater Swimming Centre, the largest in the UK (if you count the car park – and they always do). The narrative momentum is provided by the MacGuffin of an elixir, for which the ingredients must be collected at the cost of completing a series of challenges. If this all sounds a little too conventional and Harry Potter-esque to you, don’t worry; the fourth-wall breaking script is well aware of the limitations of the storyline. All is forgiven as the bare-bones plot is used as a framework for a series of ever more abstract, hilarious segments. Our endearing protagonist navigates the corridors and challenges of a leisure centre filled with murderous dance lessons, well-endowed slush puppy monsters and a twenty-six-year-old man-child trapped inside a slide.
The script excels in taking a premise and pushing it to its extremes, forcing a creativity that is as impressive as it is funny. This is complemented by the three-man cast of Alex Franklin, Noah Geelan and Will Bicknell-Found, who respond in grounded and believable ways to the calamitous events around them. Particularly notable are the rapid character switches of the performers. The contrast between the absurdity of the situations and the normality of the main character forms the backbone of the humour, which is refreshingly devoid of political commentary or reliance on references. Combined with friendly audience interaction and some ad-libbed sections, the performances give the audience a chance to really connect with the show.
The immersion in the production is enhanced by excellent lighting, sound and set design. With minimal props, the stage (and entire theatre) becomes, at various points, a pool, a crazy-golf course and a gravity-defying climbing wall. Again, the creativity of the writing team shines through, providing visual gags as strong as the written ones.
If any criticism could be levelled at this show it is that the strength of certain sequences almost overshadows the plot as a whole. On the opening night, the toll of a small cast and such varied, complex skits showed itself once or twice with some minor slip-ups. However, these were handled with grace and good humour by the cast and audience and certainly did not hinder the magnificent overall quality of the show. By the drawing of the final curtain, all present, whether watching, backstage or in the spotlight, were left with cheeks aching from the rapid-fire dose of quality comedy from these outrageously talented students.