Diya Shah with permission for Varsity

It’s difficult to tell whether or not you should go to the Footlights Spring Revue. With the troupe’s position as one of the Great Cambridge Institutions you feel like you probably ought to see them in the same way that you feel like you probably ought to see Elton John live in concert before he dies. He may be performing Rocket Man with a colostomy bag swinging like a candle in the wind, but you know that you’d regret not seeing him live while he’s still standing. That’s how I felt about the Footlights Spring Revue. I wasn’t expecting much, but I knew I’d kick myself if I graduated without seeing them. Obviously this wasn’t going to be Fry and Laurie in their prime, but I thought there would be something I could take away from the experience. How naive I was.

“I thought there would be something I could take away from the experience. How naive I was”

The broad concept of the show is that the Footlights, tired on their way back from a world tour, accidentally get shipwrecked on a deserted island and perform their favourite sketches to pass the time. A fine concept, and while it would have been nice for more sketches to be linked to this concept of shipwreck, I can’t fault the Footlights for not doing so - after all we’re here for an eclectic array of sketches and not Shakespeare.

Some common advice given to young comics is that you should open your act with your second-best joke, so I was surprised to find that the first real sketch performed was a bizarre take on the moon landing involving astronauts asking “are we there yet” and considering what their first words on the moon ought to be. After a handful of jokes about golf, and the complete absence of any punchline, the sketch abruptly ends.

The lack of punchlines is something that haunts the show throughout. There were countless times that the lights faded to black and silence was followed by a confused clap or two before the next sketch started. I was led to wonder whether the lack of a punchline was some comic device that I was just too stupid to get. I’ve come to realise it was probably unintentional, and that shouting the words “major ick” was really their idea of a joke.

“The lack of punchlines is something that haunts the show throughout”

A particularly egregious example of this joke-less monotony is in the second act’s excruciating recurring gag where two Footlights (Declan Boyd and Lily Blundell) sing popular songs but adjust the lyrics to mean the opposite of the original meaning. This leads to such ‘zingers’ as singing an atheistic version of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing, which is about as funny as you would expect.

The most surprising element of the evening though was the complete lack of edge to any jokes. The whole show had an absence of any risk-taking or bite, most noticeably when the Footlights tried to stray into political satire. Attempts at political commentary appeared both outdated and weak, with tired pastiches on the Johnson/Truss resignations and NHS waiting lists. The whole show lacked any unusual or provocative material and - despite the occasional ‘fuck’ and a gag about two undercover policemen both called Dick - it was disappointingly family friendly.

“The most surprising element of the evening though was the complete lack of edge to any jokes”

That’s not to say that every sketch flopped. There were some routines that got a hearty laugh from me, with a great satire on a skateboarder being interviewed as though they’re a great artist, and a recurring gag about the Cheeky Girls relationship with Lib Dem ex-MP Lembit Opik. By far the highlight of the evening was a spoof film trailer that saw a Bruce Willis-style Jane Eyre (Miranda Evans) melodramatically meander through intentionally forced literary references, making puns along the way.


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Overall though, the casts’ performances had little unique stage presence at all, with two exceptions. Miranda Evans’ laid-back persona works because you begin to believe that she’s on the audience’s side, and Rhys Griffiths’ loud, over-the-top delivery works when playing characters like Rat Poison, a 70-year-old Punk rocker, and a sleazy cigarette salesman - outside of these two sketches though, his performance lacks range and can feel out-of-place. While it might be easy to sit back and critique these performances, it is clear that they had little to work with and that they could have the potential to stand out if they were delivering sharper, punchier material.

There is certainly fun to be had at the Footlights. The standout skits are fun and show that there is some potential with the troupe and, despite my overall sense of dissatisfaction with the performance, I don’t regret attending. However, the sketches are largely disappointing and the absence of punchlines is keenly felt, giving the whole evening a peculiar feel. You really ought to go and see the Footlights while you’re in Cambridge, but it ought to be funnier than this.

Footlights Spring Revue runs at the ADC Theatre until Saturday 24 February.