Cambridge Footlights: Niceties

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

You, like me, might have missed the meeting. But the funniest thing in the world is, apparently, a light being switched off.

It must be, because the Cambridge Footlights think so, and you don’t get much smarter than them. How else can you explain the fact that sketch after sketch ends, seemingly mid-dialogue, with the stage being plunged into darkness. Either flicking a switch is the comedy Philosophers’ Stone, turning everything into gold, or they’re having difficulty keeping their electricity meter key topped up.

Of course, using the blackout to dodge that awkward ‘oughtn’t we really try to write a punchline’ dilemma is an age-old trick, but this team use it so often, so indiscriminately and so far away from any natural climax, it quickly becomes overwhelmingly frustrating.

Then again, it’s been a while since this long-running outfit performed just sketches, preferring in recent years to weave their ideas into some sort of narrative, often misguidedly. So you can see why this back-to-basics approach appeals.

And, to be fair, this fivesome do have a good flow of half-decent ideas on disparate subjects that would ill-suit a formal structure. But rarely do they properly exploit their inspiration for laughs.

The set-ups are frequently imaginative and promising: quintruplets packed into the womb, cricketers idling away the hours in the outfield unaware of any match, the very last dinosaurs on earth – but there’s rarely enough characterisation, and almost always insufficient jokes, to get much out of them.

A couple of sketches do stand apart, which isn’t a great strike rate: an Edwardian family posing for a photograph under the steely gaze of their overbearing father, and a wonderful parody of Tim Henman, deluded and needy, bugging the British tennis’s newest golden boy, Andy Murray.

Former Chortle Student Comedy Award finalist Simon Bird plays Henman and, while it’s impossible to know who wrote what, he seems to have the strongest comic instincts of the five. His two male colleagues, Sam Kitchener and Joe Thomas have a decent line in floppy-haired Brideshead boys – hardly out-of-stereotype for the Cambridge set, but not without character-actor appeal. And, at times, Kitchener has a touch of the Hugh Laurie about him.

Ginger-haired Helen Cripps is rather nondescript, but it’s Tiani Ghosh who stands out – for all the wrong reasons. She gurns her way through every sketch forever widening her eyes and twisting her lips into awkward contortions, even if the tone is otherwise naturalistic and she’s little more than background furniture. And when she does get a line, it’s squawked out in such strangulated exaggeration it sounds as if a parrot’s giving birth to a bowling ball.

Some good will come out of this team, it always does - Mark Watson and the Garth Marenghi team are among recent alumni – even if their key annual showcase again falls short on the laughometer.

Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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