REVIEW: Footlights Presents: Human Resources
Cambridge Footlights deliver a mixed bag
Lots of the sketches in the new Footlights show, ‘Human Resources’, have a huge amount of potential. There’s a funny skit about Mary Poppins (an excellent Lottie Elton) having her bag searched at airport security; one about Noah (of Ark fame) filming a TV ad for a ‘trip of a lifetime’ ride. Both sketches, however, seemed to fall somehow flat. A punchline was delayed, or the sketch dragged out for too long, or ended inexplicably 20 seconds too late.
Though the majority of sketches weren’t related to the comings and goings of office life, the theme provided a strong framework for characterisation on individual levels (it’s certainly true to say that each member of the ensemble was quite distinct, if occasionally cliché), and the stage both looked wonderful – the water cooler, mini fridge, out-of-order coffee machine – and gave the ensemble ample apparatus to navigate various scenes without there being any sparsity, or crowding, on stage. The show’s structure served well to unite the strands of the play into a coherent whole, and the cast truly looked like an ensemble, with matching white shirts and light blue ties; it felt at times, however, that the format restricted, rather than galvanised, the cast. The office as a comedic setting has been done a thousand times in recent years – it’s almost impossible for the cast to hit consistently upon originality. That having been said, in the small details, there were good laughs: the ‘employee of the month’ board to the side of the stage, with the faces of one employee; and Jamie Bisping’s wonderful aimless firing of a stapler gun as the monotony of the HR department ticks away in the background.
It was actually where the comedy felt secondary to the main sketches – as if different members of the cast had had small ideas to add on to the main action – where the enormous potential of this show shone through. There were some entertaining short skits – one memorable one, in particular, in which a disgruntled Will Owen on all fours chastises his partner for trying to force a game of fetch on him – and a couple of golden lines – including one 20-odd year-old office worker beginning, ‘When I was in the Vietnam War…’.
Too many sketches, however, demonstrated little in the way of bite, resorting to unfunny tropes or puns. Having one character, hysterical, laugh at another character’s puns was more uncomfortable than funny – there was no nuance here, and the resort to puns happened far too often through the show. It felt like in many places the show needed to be given a more contemporary feel: there’s a news report scene that simply seemed outdated; and perhaps it’s telling that one could have seen almost exactly the same sketches five, or even ten, years ago, with nothing flying over the audience’s heads. Comedy is, of course, an especially subjective topic (not to mention incredibly difficult to write!) – so that is not to say that some parts of the audience were not enormously enjoying the show, or that everyone who saw the show would be of the same opinions as these.
Overall, the show does feel slick and modern: its publicity, staging, and overall presentation were all of a very high standard (though its transitions are not for everyone). Film projection was used occasionally and to great effect, adding colour and variety; there’s a musical number that feels impressively professional and well-rehearsed (not to mention that Mariam Abdel-Razek is a wonderful singer!). And all the cast is clearly of fantastic talent: where they were permitted to go ad lib, and where they broke the fourth wall (especially in a fun sketch in which the audience is up for sale), they shone through and easily held the audience’s attention in their grasp.
It’s a show that demonstrates a huge amount of potential – both in respect of all the cast, who are unquestionably brilliant comic actors – and in respect of its streamlined, clearly well-rehearsed presentation. And, because of the show’s impressive scope, everyone who enters the Human Resources office will find lots of things in the show to enjoy.