Disclaimer: this show is 100% Footlights, 0% lagoons.
We know the drill for the Footlights now: get there early before it sells out, pay a hefty fee / pinky finger to secure a ticket, and watch Cambridge’s deftest comics at work. The ADC run is the precursor to their international tour and are, as such, somewhat a series of extended rehearsals: sketches are still being honed and added/eliminated, and the show isn’t exactly the same from night to night.
The still-shifting nature of the show is clear, since the name is completely incongruous. It has literally nothing to do with the show – not even the perfunctory scenery of the Spring Revue – unless you count the mention of water, which I don’t. It’s never even mentioned, so it can’t claim surrealism. There’s not really a running theme or an arc, except for a running gag about music choices for the breaks (a shaky attempt at audience interaction), it’s more a series of absurdist snapshots, ranging from lacklustre to genius. Laughter is guaranteed, but not consistently.
The cast of Lagoon. Credit: Benedict Flett
The Lagoon team consist of Four Veterans and a Newcomer (movie potential anyone?), the newcomer being (gasp) fresher Sarah Creedy Smith, a spirited performer who easily keeps pace with familiar faces Rob Oldham, Guy Emanuel, Jordan Mitchell and Sam Grabiner. Collectively Lagoon’s performers and writers are directly or indirectly linked to pretty much anything funny you’ve seen this year, up to and including that pigeon that flew into your window last weekend. Their broad range of comedy styles meld nicely together and the team are skilfully and warmly attuned to each other: they’re five individuals performing, sure, but they’re first and foremost a skilled and comfortable team.
That said, it’s not a coincidence that the funniest sketch – a Shakespearian death-duel between two conkers – featured Sam Grabiner and Rob Oldham. Grabiner and Oldham have the best acting chops of the group, particularly Oldham, whose deadpan brilliance can produce ripples of laughter out of a single word better than any of the others (see: the psychotic Nike director, or one or two scene closers – ‘What’s your biggest flaw?’ ‘Arson’). Grabiner and Creedy Smith are delightfully over-the-top; Emanuel’s skittish, awkward comic persona is hilarious when thrown into relief by the others (see: the GoPro sketch with Emanuel and Oldham) and Mitchell’s style is like a purposely bad actor, one second bloated with arrogance and then just as quickly deflated.
4/5 of Lagoon share a tender moment. Credit: Olivia Mary Gilman
So the performers are solid. The problem is that some sketches fall flat, and the entire show has the feeling that almost every sketch could have been stopped a minute earlier. I spent half the show entertained and the other half annoyed that I’d paid £9 for it (it’s a toss-up as to whether that’s worth it; I would say that £12 for non-students is objectively a rip-off). But you’re buying the name. When the sketches are good, they’re great; when they’re bad, they’re rarely offensively so. I spent the show oscillating between genuine joy and slightly bored half-laughter. I wasn’t sure how to feel about the laughter-call sketch: it was clever, more cleverly self-referential than usual, but the feeling of juicing laughs out of the crowd felt uncomfortably pertinent. They’re the Footlights; we come along and laugh. But the touches of neglect to the production does make me wonder if they’re coasting.
The show is funny, and I am sure it will improve as it goes along, but more generally, I’d like to see more innovation in Cambridge’s main comedy fixture. And I’m not the only one asking.