Beyond A Joke

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Set amid a huge snowstorm, altering normal life in some truly bizarre ways, the acclaimed Cambridge Footlights comedy troupe have produced a series of comic sketches that never really manage to take off.

The production itself is highly organised, encompassing all the technical talent that is on offer to such a prestigious company. The set is simple yet effective and decent theatrical effects are achieved using a complex convergence of light, sound, smoke and fake snow. Reasonable production values, however, fail to mask the glaring problems in writing and performance that provide absolutely no structural support to a superficially pleasant hour.

The sketches are all created in a deliberate, offbeat style, always taking a very methodological, rather than inspired, approach to writing. Precious few characters are anything more than caricatures, a one-dimensional idiosyncrasy designed solely for the purpose of a single joke.

In one of the better sketches, for example, a man purposefully travels into traffic jams for fun and proceeds to form an intimidating relationship with another driver, yet the character is frustratingly undeveloped aside from an artificial 'weirdness'. Even when figures appear more than once, it is only for the purpose of repeating the same joke with no additional depth applied.

Other sketches, such as an odd lunchtime exchange between two men, are very fuzzily focused with the purpose or, indeed, comedy being highly difficult to distinguish. The broader theme also appears to be constantly confused as, at times, the show purports to be a satire of the warped perspectives of small-town life while, at othesr, the focus shifts to critique upper classes, football culture and professional relationships. As a collective piece of work, it seems as if the troupe collated individually written sketches before changing minor details to create the appearance of a coherent hour.

The large majority of performances are contrived as each actor, with a few exceptions on certain sketches, appear to have one individual style which they relentlessly transfer from character to character. This may not be a huge problem if the written material was stronger, allowing one solid aspect to carry the other, but it is simply not good enough to save this ambitious, yet ultimately boring, production.

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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