Footlights International Tour Show: Real Feelings

These Footlights will go far, reckons LOUIS SHANKAR.

ADC Ben Pope Footlights jamie fraser Louis Shankar tom fraser

ADC Theatre, June 10th – 21st, 7.45 PM, £14/11.

I felt that there was a lot of pressure writing this review. The Footlights have a extensive and unparalleled legacy, something that can be indisputably lauded above the Other Place. Every Cambridge student can reel off a selection of the most famous alumni: Fry and Laurie, Armstrong and Miller, Mitchell and Web. Their latest show – inconsequentially titled Real Feelings – lives up to this formidable precedent, as well as showing strong promise for the future.

The show was funny throughout, ranging from a light-hearted chuckle to side-splitting hysterics. The sketches covered a variety of genres, blurring the absurd with the real and journeying from self-awareness to the downright ridiculous. A lack of coherent theme didn’t matter: the show remained engaging, at times thanks to the cast talking to, and even recording, the audience.

Among the best sketches were the two that seemed to rely on a large degree of on-stage improvisation: a good-cop/bad-cop regime where the two policemen had fused their minds, thereby speaking (mostly) in synchronisation; and a new film starring Tom Cruise where Andy Serkis was in charge (apparently) of all his movements. Both struggled, both stumbled, but because of this, both scenes had the entire audience in fits of laughter.

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A few other surreal sketches also worked well: a demented Mary Berry made a cake, we learned the unexpected origins of one of Rogers and Hammerstein’s most famous songs, and a tennis match that traversed dimensions were favourites of the crowd.

Although often relying on easy subversions of the audience’s expectations, the humour never became repetitive of clichéd. A few punchlines lacked a bit of, well, punch. There was an occasional break of composure on the part of one of the performers but this served to only heighten the humour as the sheer ridiculousness of the scenes became clear.

The five performers, each of whom also wrote the show along with director Jamie Fraser, played off of one another perfectly. Their timing was impeccable, the scene- and costume-changes fluid and unobtrusive. The all-male cast managed to become a whole cast of characters, from TV chefs to demons from the underworld and from pregnant women to little girls – the more ridiculous, the funnier.

However, two of the cast stood out. Ben Pope, ex-President of the Footlights, kept his cool throughout, delivering solid lines from behind a stoic facade and aptly appointing himself the manager (soon turned frontman) during the ‘boy band’sketch. Tom Fraser, the current President, shone through, rightly deserving his appointment. He went from demented to bitchy in a split-second, never breaking his composure and mustering laughs even when reciting Shakespeare’s Henry V.

The production as a whole was slick. The music and lighting were simple but effective, verging on truly theatrical at times. The direction was clever and dynamic, retaining the audience’s attention without distraction. An absence of many props, with mime generally being used instead, similarly brought the focus to the performers and their lines and jokes.

Real Feelings is playing here in Cambridge for two weeks, before touring to Edinburgh and America. It is a very, very funny show and well worth a few pounds at the end of term. It’s good value, too: I counted at least 30 sketches. Most of all, though, the show shows promise: each of the sketches was fully formed and comically crafted, creating a whole little world (however weird and wonderful) for its duration. Many of the skits wouldn’t look out of place on BBC2. Given a proper budget, this year’s Footlights could go far and, in many years to come, perhaps even be included on the society’s list of famous alumni.