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Footlights in 'Pretty Little Panic'
Published on Friday, 12 August 2011
3

3 stars

Pleasance Dome (venue website)
Comedy
3-16, 18-29 Aug, 5:20pm-6:20pm
Reviewed by Craig Thomson

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

The Cambridge Footlights name must be both a blessing and a curse.  With such a storied history, association with the group is surely a badge of honour.  But then, with such a storied history, audiences can go in expecting the group to be the next Fry and Laurie, Slattery, Thompson, or the other two (in some cases, perhaps even expecting to see Fry et al).  That's unfair – and it’s also the last you'll hear of the 1981 tour in this review – so I went to Pretty Little Panic with my eyes open.

What is immediately obvious is that these guys (and they're all guys this year) are slick, and they are fast.  In fact, I've not seen a sketch group smoother or quicker on the uptake in recent memory.  No sooner has one comic target been locked on to and executed than they're moving off to the next.  They have a neat flow to their repertoire where often, the last line of one sketch sets up the context of the next, otherwise unrelated, skit – and the pace seldom lets up.

There are occasionally longer pieces where an idea or character is developed a bit further, of which Ben Ashenden's truly bizarre car salesman monologue is the undoubted highlight.  Although it sounded haphazard, it was actually a really tightly written and excellently performed portrait.  The same could be said of the whole routine, with one caveat: they tended to resort to comic mugging a bit too often, all zany eyes and imbecilic mannerisms.  While occasionally funny (witness the German film maker being introduced at the Oscars), it's really quite lowbrow and is a little surprising.

All the more so because otherwise, it was a fairly sanitised set of sketches, almost tailor-made for the radio.  Set a few visual gags aside – an obvious but effective mirror routine, for instance – and you'd  be quite pleased to tune into this sort of thing while motoring down the M6 after having listened to your Mumford & Sons album on repeat too many times.  It all felt very 'safe' – not necessarily a criticism, but this is quite in some sense far from the Fringe.
 
The four-guys-in-white-shirts angle is not in danger of being underplayed in Fringe sketch comedy, but the Footlights are sort of the Kellogg's Cornflakes of the bunch.  They're always there, and you always know what to expect – not necessarily the content of the act, but the odds-on tip that you'll be seeing some future comic stars in the making.

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