MATTHEW WOLFSON enjoys, but is not blown away by, the Footlights Smoker.
There was lots of talent lined up at the Smoker this week, but the material the Footlights brought didn’t quite rise to match their obvious performing skills. Most of the pieces didn’t build momentum, instead seeming to float along, and the humour largely came in the form of one-liners. The strongest moments, with one exception, came during the top half; during the bottom I was fidgeting, especially during an unfortunate piece about Pret A Manger sandwiches and semen. But, though the show overall may not have felt inspired, the funny stuff was very funny indeed, and sometimes quite subtle.
Exhibit A for subtle humour was a piece on the invention of emoticons, which sketched in the gap between the complexity of real emotions and the superficiality of the signs. (There was a “mixed” emoticon, with the mouth looking like a badly drawn squiggle, that was described as “melancholy and provocative” while a “sarcastic” emoticon turned out to be a stuck-out tongue.) Exhibit B dealt with Harry Potter. Ron and Hermione wait for Harry, and we’re all ready for a prolonged scene, when instead someone rushes out muttering “Judi Dench “alohamora” “8 movies” “national treasure” “quidditch” and waving his arms maniacally, apparently overwhelmed by HP’s never-ending presence in our national culture.
On the not-so-subtle but still funny side was a short skit comparing IKEA to Scandinavia: “We came to this barren wilderness just to build something of our own, and now we’ll die here!” (This pretty much summed up my experience with IKEA one terrible afternoon when I tried to put together a tiny lamp-table I’d bought. Except at the end of their adventure the performers weren’t drunk.) There was also a nice bit on Roger Federer: it was worth the price of admission just to watch his hilariously over-deliberate movements and to hear how he pronounced “woooood.” The show finished with a guitar piece entitled “Boring White Man’s Blues” where some of the references (such as the singer’s glum admission that he was going home tonight to watch David Attenborough) had definite bite.
Monologue-wise, there was a darkly comic story about a chauvinistic Englishman abroad in Spain, in which gazpacho was memorably described as a “ cultural idiosyncrasy.” Jamie Fraser and Ben Pope both featured to good effect, though having seen Jamie hit more personal notes in other performances I thought some of his culturally oriented jokes (like one about the strangeness of the phrase “internal bleeding”) were weaker than they could have been. Ben, however, had two great moments: talking about his dog “shitting on the floor with Elizabethan whimsy”, and confiding that his love life was in such a tough spot that he found himself in the dark place of being jealous of his parents’ relationship.
Overall, there was plenty of inventiveness on display from a focused, skilled cast, many of whom I’ve seen before and will happily go see again. But nothing really gelled into a cohesive whole, and there was a good deal of dead space in between: I saw funny moments, and the performers had presence, but the material didn’t quite measure up.