Review: Footlights Smokers

‘A night of magnetic ecstasy…?’ Possibly not, but after all humour is subjective

As this was my first experience of “smokers”, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a kind of amateur Live at the Apollo, with glittering lights and lots of dramatic entrances, or, alternatively, a seedy room at the back of the ADC, filled with pompous students sharing thinly-veiled misogynistic jokes while smoking their grandfathers’ cigars.

In actuality, the night felt very low-key and though enjoyable, it wouldn’t be one that I’d attend frequently, maybe a ‘once a term if my friend was in it’ kind of thing.

To put it simply, there was definitely a mix of experience levels and I certainly wouldn’t have the courage to face the pressure of making people laugh. For that the performers must be commended.

Sophie Stemmons, the compère, began the night with a diatribe about the vicious socio-economic issues facing the b*tches (…I really do mean female dogs) in the world of Adventure Bay in PawPatrol.

Sophie enlightened us on the issues facing the poor pups; it would seem that the gender pay gap and child labour issues are prevalent even in animated children’s tv programmes, but thankfully Sophie was a worthy advocate for the cause. Her engagement with the audience was exceptional and her strengths lay in her ad-lib and ability to spar with audience members.

Especially appreciated was the way she created a positive atmosphere for the next performer by coming up with new ways to get us to engage and cheer- very panto-esque. There were more performers than I’d anticipated, so this helped keep the show fast-paced and high energy.

Image credits: Author’s own

Another highlight was Francesca Gilks- though maybe because we have the same name I was biased! Looking back on my notes, all I wrote about her was “good banter about Catholics” and “mesmerising”, which I think sums up her performance pretty well.

Her speedy delivery would have made my secondary school drama teacher flinch but it worked for the jokes and rapid anecdotes.

The energy dipped somewhat in the middle of the performance- the performers seemed nervous and new to it. It gave a sense of awkwardness to the show and as such the audience weren’t especially responsive and a lot of jokes didn’t land.

Occasionally the jokes felt natural but many felt over-rehearsed, though the material had potential. The performers handled it well though and fell back on self-deprecation, which was better received.

The male comedians towards the end really boosted the mood- my friend described my laughter as “cackling”. William Boyce entered the stage, seemingly shy and awkward and you just felt the urge to laugh out of pity. However, within moments he had the audience in the palm of his hand with his description of “magnetic fishing”- definitely an activity for students to try this term.

It seemingly involves a chunky magnet and a riverbed full of crashed bikes… very Cambridgey! His performance was charming and I will be stealing the phrase “a night of magnetic ecstasy!”

Henry Nolan also was a notable performer- he began by detailing an embarrassing fumble on the Tube which set a very good tone for the rest of his set and the audience adored him, especially his use of amateur French and a Scouse accent. There were audible gasps at certain parts of his story; he made for a very effective storyteller.

What worked well throughout was the use of accents, (however bad!) and physical humour to emphasise a point (Fatima’s use of sassy hands on hip especially!) so more of this would be very effective! Some topics were also quite dark so possibly a bit more nonchalance would have worked as a tool to create laughter and break the tension, though I appreciate this is not an easy task.

Every performer did such a good job regarding self-deprecating humour and had good stage presence- I can definitely see some making it onto the Dave channel in a few years!


Feature image credit: Francesca Lees