The opening sketch of last night’s Footlights Lady Smoker felt almost talismanic, the emblem of the ‘funny woman’ in which the entire cast walks on and acts out an exaggerated scene of conflict between female friends, in which every word spoken in the scene is ‘periods’. What makes the material and delivery of this cast of fantastic comedians so brilliant, however, is that they acknowledge the misogynistic charges often levelled at women working in this industry, but don’t negotiate with them or try to jump through hoops to defy them. This is comedy by women, for women, on women’s own terms.
Without exception, each sketch stands alone and holds up as a beautiful piece of finely tuned comedy, and the energy of the cast pulses through individual performances to flow through the show as a whole, creating a coherence in the absurd humour of these sketches.
It’s hard to pick particular standout performances, but perhaps the ones which elicited the greatest uproar from the audience were the group sketches. Many of the monologues were also particularly hilarious, especially Emma Plowright’s ‘memoirs’, of a life revolving around her desire to consume and become bread (‘Wherefore art thou, sweet yeasty release?’). Also giving wonderful performances both in group scenes and in monologues were Callie Vandewiele, Emmeline Downie and Ania Magliano-Wright.
This was a brilliant lineup for the Footlights, and you can really feel the genuine warmth, closeness and solidarity which these women feel for one another. Although the male members of the audience are clearly enjoying themselves as much as the female and non-binary audience members, the show feels like a dialogue between the show’s women and the audience’s women. I don’t agree with a lot of things Lena Dunham says, but I was reminded last night while watching this performance that in a world of ‘locker room talk’, the ability for women to talk frankly about sex is a very important one, and the ability to talk about bad sex, which one of the sketches centres around, is even more important.
This is comedy which values women’s experiences and the bizarreness of being a woman in 2017. For this reason, I was a little disappointed at how few of the performances focused on queer or BME women’s experiences, particularly in the light of recent controversy surrounding casting in the ADC.
Overall, however, this Footlights Lady Smoker was a hilarious and prescient celebration of women, and the Dadaesque life of the woman in 2017.
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