Footlights Spring Revue: Donors

(2 + 4)/2 = 3. If you aren’t a mathmo, you’ll need to read on to work out what editor KIERAN CORCORAN means.

Comedy Donors Footlights funny jack gamble Jess Peet jon bailey matilda wnek Matty Bradley Saul Boyer Spring Review Stewart Lee

ADC Theatre, 28 Feb-3 March, 7.45pm, £8-12

Directed by Matilda Wnek, Matty Bradley and Jon Bailey


I’ve found a way to make sure you enjoy this show more than I did:

1) Collect tickets.
2) Note seat number.
3) DO NOT enter the theatre at 7.45.
4) Drinks at the bar until interval.
5) Take seats, spectate as normal, enjoy.

That is to say, the first half isn’t really very good (though the second half is – keep reading). My worrying lack of synonyms for “laugh” looked like a non-issue with nary a guffaw, bellow, snort, chortle or smirk in sight as routines just about raised a smile.

I would have loved one sketch deconstructing audience reaction if I weren’t too busy being angry because it was stolen from Stewart Lee.


Stu on ‘borrowing’

It’s hard to analyse weak writing with any precision, because the funny normally comes from the unexpected. The most useful thing I can say about the opening raft of sketches is that they spent too much time building up to punchlines which either didn’t come or didn’t live up to their own hype.

Perhaps the problem was the bizarre medical frame narrative that gives Donors its title. Little more than a way of freeing up the show to contain a bunch of unconnected sketches, this framework required a great deal of exposition and not a lot of jokes (though Jack Gamble’s drunk doctor was one reason to keep watching).

Nobody would have minded a bunch of unashamedly unconnected sketches, but the desire for a wider narrative spilled over, making a lot of the show as needlessly wordy as this explanation is becoming.

But beyond the detritus there was a lot to appreciate, mainly after the safety curtain had risen for Part II. An excellent comic song involving the whole cast, starring the musically and comically capable Jess Peet, gifted a previously absent energy and intelligence to the second half right from the get-go.

Large-voiced and burgundy-clad Saul Boyer also gave a lot of gusto as an ad-inspired meerkat salesman and then archetypal Baron. He is the kind of performer who doesn’t hesitate but forges ahead, bringing the audience and fellow comics along with him to new heights.

Although I’ve said that the larger narrative of the show was a failure, some of the better moments of the show were part of smaller clusters of sketches. Shorter moments, such as a one-line meerkat sketch, foreshadowed more extensive treatments and rewarded the switched-on viewer. A charming masked fellow, whom I won’t spoil for you, begins as a gimmick, but is eventually given a whole sketch of his own, which is all the more fulfilling for his earlier, seemingly random, appearances.

It’s uncomfortable to watch a two-star show morph into a four-star – it makes a guy doubt his judgement. But that’s what happened here rather sharply, and the elegance of averaging has provided a final result. There aren’t a lot of actual three-star shows in Cambridge, but this is one of them. Maths says so.