After a poor showing at last year’s Fringe, the
The Free Footlights return this year on top form.
Compèred by the charmingly awkward Ted Hill, the show starts a little slow but soon picks up with Hill’s confident crowdwork. The first act James Farmer oozes everything you’d expect from a nerd. Beautifully self-deprecating and a natural odd-ball, Fraser owns his stereotype and is sharp and witty enough to string together an enjoyable ten minutes. Although there is little original in his material, his set on sex suits what one would expect from a young Cambridge comedian.
Hill’s follow on to Farmer’s material is a little hit and miss, but he quickly moves on to introduce the hugely impressive Rob Oldham. Although he is very much a work in the making, Oldham’s material is wonderfully dead-pan. Surreal, insightful and hilarious, his intelligent brand of comedy is at times polarising, but consistently brilliant. He shows signs of his inexperience and he doesn’t yet seem quite at home on stage, but Oldham has immense potential. His style won’t be popular with everyone, but for the right niche audience, Oldham is no more than a few sets from being a superb stand-up.
After an amusing segment on student privilege from Hill, Alex McKeith offers ten minutes of his “man with a guitar” musical comedy. With a quirky oddness like his predecessors, McKeith offers songs inspired by Lamar and Kanye and although his material is variable in quality, his set is enjoyable and his themes progress skilfully, but he doesn’t quite reach the heights of Oldham before him.
Without a doubt, the final act Ahir Shah is the real star of the show. Emotionally charged, politically angry and a wonderful storyteller, Shah owns an exquisite stage presence and has an almost unrivalled pace to his set. Although the speed of his comedy risks incoherence, Shah is masterfully sharp and to the point, varying his approach constantly and keeping the audience on edge throughout. Shah’s delivery verges on slam poetry and the result is truly fantastic. While I can only vouch for Shah based on a ten minute taster, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this man walk away with one of the top prizes at the Fringe.
Of course, with a daily changing line-up, any other day may be a disaster, and for only that reason am I reluctant to unreservedly recommend this show. But based on what I’ve seen, I can only say, the Free Footlights are back!