Good eggs: The Footlights Troupe are a talented bunch, but have some big shoes to fillRob Eager

During Freshers’ Week, having been burdened with the task of organising college events, I found myself marshalling a group of keen students to the ADC theatre to see the Footlights International Tour Show as part of their obligatory integration into the cultural agglomerate that is the Cambridge theatre scene. I popped it on the schedule as I thought it was a failsafe choice: a surefire way of keeping everybody, including myself (it had been a long week), happy.

School-teacher rallying aside, for me, it was a bit of a night off. We might’ve had to sprint to the box office for the last five minutes of our journey after a couple of meandering students had taken their time walking, but once I had sunk into my seat, I relaxed. I enjoyed the show a lot: it was much better than the previous year’s, I had thought.

You can imagine my surprise that when the curtains went back down, I overheard one of the new cohort expressing quite the contrary opinion: “I expected a lot more – it was all a bit underwhelming.”

A lot of acting careers have begun at the ADC, but the learning process doesn't often end here Simon Lock

I think it’s fair to say that with the Footlights name in particular, comes quite a lofty reputation, and one that begs the talent and performative gusto to match. And while this year’s cohort have it in abundance, having considered what the student in question might have meant I can see precisely why they were so disappointed.

“I had failed to take into account that the people I was watching on stage had probably not yet had the benefit of some of the Old Vic’s polish”

In the shadow of the successes of industry bigwigs like Emma Thompson, Richard Ayoade and John Cleese, and attached so irrevocably to the Cambridge ‘brand’ of theatre, it is hard to assess new talent responsibly.

It becomes increasingly difficult when the troupe market themselves against the gregarious endorsement of their repute: “the most renowned sketch troupe of them all”. But the truth is, they are standing in the impossibly large shoes of their often formally trained predecessors, and this is not fair.

After kicking off his career starring as Orestes, Hiddleston trained at RADAThe Greek Play Committee

This is not to say that we should stop holding student performers to high standards. We should – there are plenty of incredibly talented performers. But on numerous occasions even I have been guilty of the way of thinking that I have just outlined. I have had many a post-show debate lamenting the lack of an Olivia Colman-esque virtuoso performance, when I had failed to take into account that the people I was watching on stage had probably not yet had the benefit of some of the Old Vic’s polish.


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We should contextualise both the successes and the shortfalls of our student theatre community. I very much doubt that Tom Hiddleston emerged from the womb reciting ‘To be, or not to be’ with perfect poise and intonation. The stress of the Tripos might’ve helped with the fervent angst of the role, but not much otherwise – he had RADA to thank for that.

While I am certain that many of the actors and comedians you see perform here today will have wonderfully bright futures ahead of them, all that I ask is that we stop holding student performers to impossible standards

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