Cambridge Footlights International Tourshow 2012: Perfect Strangers

Thu 2nd – Mon 27th August 2012

reviews

Ettie Bailey-King

at 00:39 on 14th Aug 2012

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Is it a curse or a blessing to perform under the banner of the Cambridge Footlights? The name and its history breathes brilliance. However unjustly, we go in expecting something memorable; something that might just blow us away.

So when the first few sketches in this eclectic puzzle struck me as not just average but - whisper it - that little bit ‘underwhelming’, I thought to myself…these guys are clever. They’ve anticipated the high expectations, the reckless belief we all harbour that their show will melt our brains with brilliance, and decided to puncture our nasty little prejudices right at the beginning. So it starts out slow. And it is a good few minutes before I allow myself to think that possibly - in spite of what I believe to be a near-genetic line of inheritance running from John Cleese to Robert Webb to today’s talented troupe – it’s not that funny. An ugly thought - that perhaps the only amusing snippet in this show will be a few seconds of bad dancing (on second thoughts, is there anything funnier than bad dancing?) - is no sooner taking shape in my consciousness, than the tone rapidly changes. The pitch sharpens and the sketches suddenly begin to bounce – with real precision, adept wordplay, nuanced acting and tremendous energy – from one scene to another. It begins - subtly and indescribably- to make sense. It is not the outward sense of a plot connecting each episode (although this is undeniably the case, and one gets the sense that the comedy elves have been hard at work, deftly sewing each episode together into a seamless tapestry). Rather, it is a feeling of perfect synchronicity between each individual actor’s talents and the overall performance. Like any great team, they achieve far more than the sum of their constituent parts.

The jokes are topical but timeless, whimsical and yet serious-minded. Satire doesn’t get more succinct than the married couple sat down to cook a ‘tagine from the Amnesty international cookbook’: a single line of dialogue which conjures up an entire world of ‘right-on’ social consciousness. This is not to call it flippant or gimmicky in the least, rather, it is just one example of the easy, intelligent kind of comedy with which the show is studded. The sketches are original and assured, pacey without seeming rushed, unpretentious but just weird enough to surprise and even unsettle.

They teeter in the right zone - on the razor-sharp verge before surrealism - for time travel, medieval dance and alien-hunting to meld seamlessly together, without ever seeming lazy or fantastical.

The Cambridge Footlights offer an eloquent rejoinder to anyone who ever doubted – oh, the shame – that this year’s talent might fall short of expectations. Quite the opposite.

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Jessica Reid

at 10:05 on 14th Aug 2012

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Cambridge Footlights have a glowing reputation. 'Perfect Strangers' partially upholds this image although it begins badly. The first ten minutes are simply not funny. However, things improve with an original sketch about Barbie and Action Man, represented by both dolls and actors, which imagines the playtime conversations continuing between the dolls when left alone. A sketch where a man reveals his hidden secret to his parents is also amusing, even if slightly clichéd.

In their efforts to create a smooth flow between the sketches, there is a tenuous plot about a time travel telephone and recurrent aliens in disguise. While the narrative is confusing and weak, it does allow for the repetition of ideas and consequently jokes become funnier. The alien theme is particularly entertaining. The hidden aliens (played by Jason Forbes) are physical and over-the-top, contrasting wonderfully with the blasé and understated attire and attitude of the Alien Hunter (the brilliant Pierre Novellie). It is ridiculous and comical. Another highlight is the Utopia sketch: here four of the cast perform convincing Medieval dancing while their airy-fairy exclamations and banal revelations clash with the gruff frustration of the visiting Alien Hunter.

The venue is extremely hot and the seating is not ideal, but this does not deter the actors from giving it their all. The cast are certainly talented although the restrictions of the plot mean that they cannot demonstrate as diverse a range of skills as one might hope for in a sketch show. The show improves as it goes along – perhaps they would be better off cutting some of the earlier sketches - yet overall this is solid entertainment with some hilarious moments.

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