CAMBRIDGE FOOTLIGHTS AND FRIENDS AT THE ARTS THEATRE
Reviewing revues can be a hazardous business. In my experience very few full-length performances in this challenging genre hit the funny bone enough to fill two hours with a bum on seat (apologies for the mixed anatomical metaphor). An evening with Cambridge Footlights comes with an extra challenge – will they, can they, offer the much-lauded promise of future comic genius? Is there a comedic messiah waiting to be revealed? Has a new John Cleese or Emma Thompson walked among us? On the basis of last night’s show at the Arts Theatre, news of the Second Coming of a Stephen Fry or an Olivia Colman is grossly exaggerated. For all the youthful enthusiasm of this year’s Footlight’s crew, none stood out as an exceptional performer.
The show was in fact a collaborative effort between the Cambridge troupe and fellow student hopefuls from Bristol and Durham universities. First up were the six from the Severn. Their half-hour set was pumped out with tremendous energy and innumerable short skits; some just about hit the mark, others fell far short. Many were far too long and outstayed their welcome; gags were few and far between, punch lines too often gabbled. But there were some bright spots (such as a marital spat involving a barber shop quartet) though these were weighed down by some very immature spoofs including a ‘Who Wants to Be A Pope’ quiz and a misjudged vignette which was something about Mary Poppins and a tampon. Many of their offerings went over my head (possibly one that is too old for their cultural references).
Bristol was followed by Durham Revue. Their second half hour was several notches up on the first. Their performers were well-drilled, carefully choreographed and included some genuinely comedic talents. Their sketches were performed with tremendous verve and often had those satisfying punch lines that help give the material a necessary shape. There was a very good joke about two skydivers each of whom thought the other was the experienced trainer and I very much enjoyed a skit on ‘Lord of the Flies’ in which the feral boys about to sacrifice one of their own are constantly praised by their ultra-liberal teacher. Of course there were miss-hits such as a tasteless joke about a blind, blind dater and a pointless one about a Jewish lion Aslan. But comedy hats off to Durham for nurturing some genuine comic talent.
After the interval, it was time for the Home Team. Footlights seemed to have had about 12 performers (I lost count - some had very little to do) and presented a very long set – at least 75 minutes which was far too much given the paucity of material on offer. I am sad to say that the quality of the performances was sketchier than their sketches – it all seemed rather rushed, poorly rehearsed and overlong. One brighter spot involved the audience asked to shout out sound effects to illustrate a melodramatic story. But even here, the idea was rolled out to paper thinness by being far too long. There was some material that seemed far from original – a send up of Andy Murray as ‘sports personality’ and a rant about the annoyances of living in Cluedo House (no bedrooms or toilet and a stairway that leads nowhere). The last of many sketches just fizzled into thin air before the three companies ran on for their final bows. It had been a long and sometimes dispiriting evening full of hazard.