'Confident, charismatic and magnetic': The cast of A Comprehensive UnderstandingBronagh Leneghan

Running this week at the ADC, A Comprehensive Understanding has a perfect combination of classic sketch situations and topical influences. With the typical absurd salesmen, bizarre TV ads and driving lessons each situation could fit in any generation of sketch comedy from the 60s Frost Report to 2000s Smack the Pony. These classic sketches provide a strong base for the show and reflected the casts clear understanding of comedy writing. Their ability to inject the traditional formulas for topical ideas made the comedy both accessible and engaging. From soft boys to anti-vaxxers, no one was out of reach of satire and this allowed the show to firmly place itself in 2021. 

Any sketch show is built upon its cast and each cast member of A Comprehensive Understanding was confident, charismatic and magnetic. Laura Moss’s and Barnaby Evans in particular exuded stage presence and control despite the frenetic pace of many of their routines. A special mention must also be made for Dan Clarke who brought an energy and physicality to the stage that made him a delight to watch. This is even more impressive considering that this is Dan’s first acting role in Cambridge Theatre. The first, I imagine, of many.

"Each cast member was confident, charismatic and magnetic"

In fact, the cast the filled with debutants, Miryem Budak, Kitty Ford and Eleanor Fenton all made their first appearances on the Cambridge stage. Lottie Buttle, who was supposed to be making her second appearance since The Lower Depths in 2020, was, unfortunately, unable to perform on the first night due to injury. Director Robbie Boyd, however, was able to serve as a fantastic understudy.

Most sketch comedy has two main aims: first, to capture an observation in a simple scene and, second, to make it funny. A Comprehensive Understanding adds a third, to provide access into Cambridge comedy for students who have attended a state school. The sheer number of new voices that Robbie has been able to bring to the stage is a testament to the success of A Comprehensive Understanding’s mission for access. Whilst speaking after the show Robbie told me many of the cast had no intention of working in Cambridge theatre before they saw this project, one stating it was ‘finally something for them.’ 

"The sheer number of new voices on stage a testament to the success of A Comprehensive Understanding’s mission for access"

It seems strange that, in 2021, as Robbie pointed out, this ‘hasn’t been done before.’ But then again it’s unsurprising that a comedy scene without an explicit state school voice isn’t very comprehensive. However, with the exception of two sketches that bookend the show and one or two jokes within it the cast’s education is not remarked upon. Of course it is not necessary for them to write about the their mission for access within the text of the show but it did seem to confuse some audience members. I overheard one individual in the foyer after the show criticizing a lack of ‘northern representation’ in the cast and many others seemed to have expected a more socially pointed brand of comedy. This is not a criticism of the Sketches but instead a comment on expectation.


Mountain View

A Comprehensive Understanding Preview: The first of a kind

A Comprehensive Understanding does not reinvent Sketch comedy, it does not provide cutting social commentary or represent everyone but nor should you expect it to. Instead, as with any comedic performance, you should expect ‘A Comprehensive Understanding’ to be funny and it is, very funny. The aim of Robbie and their cast and crew is to give a platform to people who may have felt unable to participate within Cambridge theatre and it succeeds at that.

 The last thing Robbie told me is, I believe, the most important. Robbie said they hope that A Comprehensive Understanding becomes ‘a yearly tradition’ so that these great comic voices aren’t lost and if you want to not only enjoy but also preserve great Cambridge comedy you’ll buy a ticket. I can guarantee that if you have half as much fun as the girl sitting behind me, who was either having a great time or horrific night terror depending on your interpretation, then you’ll love this witty, fast-paced and energetic comedy.