Edinburgh Review: Footlights in Good For You

RORY ATTWOOD enjoys ‘one of the best amateur/student sketch-shows at the Fringe, but not quite the best’.

Alex Owen Ben Ashenden cambridge comedy Comedy daran johnson ellie ross Footlights James Moran Keith Akushie Liam Williams Lucien Young Sketch

Edinburgh Fringe: Pleasance Dome until August 30th

Directed by Daran Johnson & Liam Williams; Written by Keith Akushie & the cast

Despite their enormous funds, it must be tough for the Footlights in Edinburgh. After every Smoker in Cambridge, inevitably, some incisive frequenter of online comedy forums will be heard to say “oh it’s just the same old stuff; comedy’s moved on since Monty Python — why can’t they?” And yet in Edinburgh, the poor little Footies perform every afternoon to a roomful of baby boomers most of whom, inevitably, will say only “I liked the bit with the silly walk’ (or, this year, “what’s Spotify?”). In the context of the Edinburgh Fringe, the Footlights do seem fresh and exciting — but that’s not what their audience wants.

I liked it though. First of all, the tone is set by the reassuring slickness of the scene-changes. It might seem like a small point, but amongst the press of sketch-packs baying for your approval in Edinburgh, sharp lighting-changes covering precise and careful removal of set marks the difference between puppies and hounds. Second, and more importantly, Good For You (which is, incidentally, a great title, eschewing the usual Fringe collection of silly words) is really funny.

Obviously – like any sketch show – it’s hit-and-miss, but in this show a miss is still good for a chuckle, while a couple of the hits had me weeping with laughter. The stand-out sketch is an account of the ‘History of Birds’; on paper it’s no more than a particularly fine example of ‘random’ non-sequitur comedy (The Mighty Boosh &c.), but Ben Ashenden’s performance – less a character sketch than a collection of extraordinary tics, wobbles and nervous animal cries – made the words he was saying almost incidental.

However, all the performers were very watchable; I would like to have seen more of a couple of them, especially James Moran, who did more than anyone else to wring extra laughs out of background or straight-man roles but had only one substantial character part (in an excellently-executed if not hugely original take on the Dead Poets Society ‘inspirational teacher’ trope).

Good For You is certainly one of the best amateur/student sketch-shows at the Fringe, but not quite the best. Although the Footlights’ characteristic verbal absurdity and dry satire of the sillier aspects of popular culture afforded a rich comic seam (‘“Miaow-miaow”. That’s Cat for “drugs”’), the writing lacks a bit of imagination. Several sketches revisit well-worn comic scenarios and characters: bullshit ad agency, undercover cops &c., while the characters are almost exclusively ridiculous caricatures or deadpan straight men, with no middle ground. A handful of subtler, more naturalistic comic ideas and characters would make Good For You an absolutely stand-out sketch show, at the Fringe or anywhere else.