Footlights Spring Revue 2011 'Odds' (7..45pm, Tue 8th - Sat 12th Mar @ ADC Theatre)

What are the odds that you would lose a mansion, all your money, most of your dignity and your wife in the space of one very miserable week? Unfortunately, they are pretty high for the likes of this particular homeowner. Welcome to the Footlights Spring Revue 2011, the sketch show which shows you that with a big house comes big responsibility.

The Footlights Spring Revue is one of the biggest comedy events in Cambridge. It's sold out for the last five years in a row, and 'Odds' promises to be another smash hit from the world famous comedy club.


by Phoebe Luckhurst    Senior Theatre Critic and Editor Easter 2010    9th March 2011

This year’s Spring Revue was entitled Odds. That is ‘Odds’, period. A period enacts finality; it gestures hopefully towards a narrative arc gathering the Revue’s sketches into a coherent conclusion. What the Footlights offered was instead a series of slightly unfunny sketches that clunkily bordered a shared narrative without ever quite attaining it.

Arthur Moore (Nick Ricketts), a hapless recent widower, is in debt to the tune of one million pounds and fifty-six pence after spending precisely that lavish sum on his late wife’s funeral. His daughter, Jen (Hannah Phillips) is mildly distressed by her father’s profligacy, not to mention her mother dying. Enter Lindsay Sharpe (‘it’s a unisex name’), played by returning Footlight Raph Shirley, a morally bereft loan shark.

He’s a Soprano transcribed into an English mansion: he’ll lend Moore the money as long as he pays it back a week later (or he’ll break his kneecaps). He decides he fancies Jen, too. Also populating the stage were politician Nigel French (Mark Fiddaman), aka UKIP’s Nigel Farage, two boy scouts, Tom Pye and Ryan O’Sullivan and a Brown Owl (Jessie Wyld). The scouts, convinced without any contingent that Moore’s mansion was empty, were squatting; French acquires the West Wing after Moore has an uncomfortable gambling loss.

This was essentially a farce: these variant figures were linked by a common space, Moore’s house, but many transitions between scenes were clumsy. Moore’s utter astonishment at finding the Scouts in his house mirrored my confusion at finding them in the Revue.

Tom Pye offered some of the best physical comedy of the piece, and Jessie Wyld was suitably overbearing as Brown Owl. My issue is not with their performances, but rather with the slight fracture between the scouts and the family with whom they were living. By the end of the play, Jen and Ryan O’Sullivan’s girl-boy scout, were apparently besotted – when exactly this took place is mystifying.

Fiddaman’s performance as French/Farage was a stand-out: as he leered, cackled and smarmed it was clear that this was strong satirical writing.

On the other hand, one gaping chasm in the script was the presence of a strong female role. Wyld’s Brown Owl gyrated around Ricketts like a woman possessed. She was desperate – and she played it well – but this retrograde representation of female sexuality was slightly pathetic. Hannah Phillips as Jen was underused – she was merely the object for Lindsay Sharpe’s lines rather than possessing many of her own, which was a shame because glimmers of apposite comedic timing evidenced themselves periodically.

The use of film was executed with varying success. French’s political address was genuinely hilarious; the Connect Four skit was slightly painful. Unfortunately, the content was undermined by the execution: often, the audience sat for five to ten seconds before anything appeared on the screen. Once, after a faux-news bulletin the screen was recoiling up to the ceiling while the film was still being projected. Lighting cues were late. The production lacked polish.

Ultimately though, it was the writing that failed its actors. Moore and Jen were two-dimensional; Brown Owl was a hysterical stereotype; the boy scouts were dropped from a Smoker. Technically, it lacked finish: this was disappointing since they were such basic elements.

Fluffed lines punctuate first nights; technical inefficiency should not. The narrative arc culminated in a comedy of repetition as Moore found himself, yet again, mired in debt for the party he had thrown to celebrate escaping it. But even this neat repetition couldn’t quite connect the disparate strands of Odds.


Despite some flashes of brilliance, overall, Jennifer Shelton fails to be tickled by this year's Footlights Spring Revue.

I'm a big fan of the Footlights. Their pantomime each year is unfailingly the funniest in town, and last year's Comedy Fest at the Cambridge Arts Theatre was a riot of hilarious, off-the-wall sketches which blew Oxford and Durham's offerings clean out the water.

So it was with high hopes that I took my seat for the acclaimed Footlights Spring Revue. However, despite some occasional bursts of brilliance, Odds left me feeling unexpectedly flat. 

The darkly comic storyline charts the misfortunes of Lord Moore (Nick Ricketts), who blows his savings on a lavish wake for his dead wife, then proceeds to lose more and more in a quest to make it back.

Moore begins and ends as a melodramatic limelight-seeker - the opening scene shows him attempting to upstage the vicar during the service - yet sinks into a mire of uselessness and gullibility in between. His un-pindownable character, however, is the only one which seems inconsistent and undecided; the rest are a delightful mix of oddballs - from the sexually frustrated scout leader to the 'evil incarnate' loan shark who pretends to love Dickens.

Stand-out performances come from Footlights president Mark Fiddaman as a particularly sinister councillor, and Tom Pye's mad, manic characters are performed as ferociously as ever.

Still there is something left wanting - and the absence, I fear, is of good, stomach-crunching jokes.

There were only a few occasions where I laughed out loud - the elaborate re-enactment of Lady Moore's death, complete with theatrical banner, and the campaign video of Fiddaman's crooked politician are both examples of the weird and wonderful imaginations behind this production.

Many punchlines, however, simply eluded me. Maybe this time my town status left me as a bit of an outsider. 

Settling back for a night of edgy comedy at the ADC on Tuesday night, I was instead disappointed to find myself sitting through a not-particularly-funny pantomime. The premise of Odds was ambitious, and the plot initially seemed promising: a recently widowed man who has spent all his money on his wife's funeral sells his soul to a loan shark played by Footlights veteran Ralph Shirley. Pretty soon, he finds his house invaded by a pack of club scouts, headed by militant and sexually voracious brown bear, Jessie Wyld. The invasion of the green-clad trio is shortly followed by an evil politician. Meanwhile, the loan shark tries to win over the widower's daughter by monotonously espousing the virtues of Charles Dickens.

By the end of the play, Shirley's stock phrase 'Bleak House is soooo gooood!' was making the audience wince. And this was not the only joke that wore itself out. As a sketch, the set-up could have been hilarious, but there was simply not enough energy there to stretch it into a whole play, and by the second half it was as soggy as the pancakes most of the audience were fantasizing about cooking when they got home. The use of a video screen as a TV whilst the Footlights stars 'watched' on stage was initially entertaining, but the clips went on far too long. In fact, the whole thing went on far too long.

In spite of the weak script, The Spring Revue had its moments. Original, quirky jokes popped up here and there, and the performances on the whole were good. Whilst the plot flopped, it did provide a showcase for the idiosyncrasies of the Footlights team's talent: Nick Ricketts gave a good rendering of a dippy bereaved daddy, and Mark Fiddaman played a ghoulishly creepy politician. Tom Pye's body language was hilarious, but then he could make a reading of Gordon Brown's grocery list speech crippling funny stand-up. The main problem was that there was not enough to tie the funny bits together: though I got the giggles a couple of times, for the most of it I was struggling to keep my eyes open.

The technical team hazarded an attempt at special effects, although their timing was disastrous. During the last scene, the music blared out so loudly that it sounded like a 'Donk' rave on Wigan Pier - people were actually putting their hands over their ears, and there was nothing that the actors on stage could do.

The fault of the play may just have been, other than the technical let-downs, that it was simply too ambitious. The two straight leads felt incongruous with the others, who were each lost in their own, intermittently brilliant, character acting. In parts it was entertaining; as a whole it was disjointed - the cumulatively obvious lack of laughs felt awkward, and clearly impacted on the performers morale. The majority of the material was well worn for anyone with even minor experience of Cambridge comedy. The writing was, much of the time, as flat as the proverbial pancake.


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