One of the Cambridge Footlights’ most famous alumni, David MitchellBBC/Moira Degas

There was a bubbling excitement as I sat down to watch the Cambridge Footlights in Edinburgh’s Pleasance Dome. There was a young crowd muttering and fidgeting, awaiting the Footlights’ signature brand of absurdist comedy. But, with this excitement came a level of expectation. In the mind of everyone in the room was Steven Fry, Emma Thompson, David Mitchell, Robert Webb and, the latest, Phil Wang.

It is difficult to review a show like Are We There Yet? The name ‘Footlights’ opens special doors, packs out venues, and facilitates an international tour. These young performers gain a unique access to the world of comedy and must be judged with that privilege in mind. Despite the quality of their work— and it indeed was a cut above most other student shows— without the Footlights name it is unlikely these sketches alone would be able to support a run of this length and expense.

In this comedic landscape, are the Footlights out of date?

However, this privilege comes with a pressure normally reserved for far older, more established acts. They wear this pressure well. After the show, I asked what the brand meant to them? Their answer: expectation. But this burden never leaks into their performance. The show is light-hearted, walking a careful line between topical jabs at ‘vibe-checks’, playground humour, and timeless classic sketches. Through this mixture the Footlights try to stay relevant whilst maintaining their comic roots.

For the most part, they are successful. There is a wealth of idea’s and potential wrapped up in their zany style and I shan’t undermine the achievements of each individual performer by just discussing the Footlights in the abstract. Sophie Stemmons’s energy was infectious, Chakira Alin’s charm was unmistakable, Katie Devey’s rapport with the audience was instant, Adam Al-Janabi’s confidence was palpable, and Jonathan Neary’s comedic timing was impeccable. And, above all, they were funny.

A fun, diverting, and creative hour of top quality student comedy

It is important to highlight the names of each performer because, ostensibly, that is the only thing that changes about the show each year. Yes, the sketches themselves are different, some of the more topical references unique to this zeitgeist, but if you have seen one Footlights show you’ve seen them all. Very early on, it struck me that most of these jokes, settings, and comic characters wouldn’t have seemed out of place in any prior generation of the Footlights.

Whilst it is clear the intention is to be timeless, is their dedication to their roots holding them back? In the mid 1980s, with the rise of alternative comedy, the comedic landscape shifted. It became more individualised. Focused on expressing alternate voices and stripping down the comedic artifice. Fast-forward forty years and the current comedy climate is deeply personal. This year’s Fringe is full of stand-up comics finding humour in their innermost fears, insecurities, and mental health issues. In this comedic landscape, where comics gives so much of themselves to their audience, are the Footlights’ absurdist court room, wacky police interrogation and awkward sexual health class sketches out of date?


Mountain View

Footlights comedy is more sweet than sour

I asked the Footlights this very question. Jonathan Neary, speaking on behalf of the cast, said: “Our style makes us better. Our different ideas come together to make something we couldn’t do on our own. It’s essentially collaborative”. Through this they helped me realise that, whilst often billed as the headliner, these are still very young comics coming together to be greater than the sum of their parts. The Footlights brand offers an established, successful system through which young talents are able to cut their teeth. After seeing this show I think I understand better. No, not a lot has changed since 1981, when the Footlights won the inaugural Edinburgh Fringe Award, but there will always be a place for a group of passionate young performers trying to write classic comedy.

Don’t go to see Are We There Yet? for something new, and don’t go for the finished article. You should see Are We There Yet? for what it is—a fun, diverting, and creative hour of top quality student comedy, but also for what it can become—five comedy careers with incalculable potential.

Are We There Yet? was showing at the Pleasance Dome at the Edinburgh Fringe between 3-29 August. It will be showing again at the ADC Theatre in Cambridge between 4-7 October