Free Footlights

After a poor showing at last year’s Fringe, the Free Footlights return this year on top form. In their lesser known stand-up show, the Cambridge Footlights showcase some of the best up and coming young comedians from the renowned sketch comedy group. There is a running theme of self-deprecation and a confident, well deserved arrogance which accompanies the high-brow intellectual comedy we’ve come to expect from student stand-ups. Although this limits the show’s appeal to the wider audience, it is wickedly funny at times and showcases a fantastic breadth of talent. Some acts show the inexperience one would expect from a performer in their first year at the fringe, but there is a fantastic quality on display and bags of the trademark wit the footlights are known for.

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!

Reviews by Max Falkenberg

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The Blurb

In addition to their main show, the Cambridge Footlights present an hour of stand-up, songs, monologues and more in association with PBH's Free Fringe. Featuring a rolling line-up of Cambridge's top comedians and friends, this is student comedy at its best. The Cambridge Footlights are a world-renowned comedy troupe, whose alumni include: Richard Ayoade, David Mitchell, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry and the better half of The Inbetweeners.