There Will Be Cake is an improvised short-form sketch show based on the input of audience members. Because of this, comedic stimuli varies from audience to audience and no two performances are the same. The show opens with what feels like a pleasantly informal chat about all things birthdays: surprise parties, treasured gifts, the ageing process and, of course, cake. Though laughter does not come thick and fast here, this process is vital; it is at this stage that material is gathered to be used as impetus for the rest of the show.
A celebration of the silly and the transient.
Indeed, some of the night’s best moments were callbacks not merely to answers given by audience members at this stage, but also their mannerisms. Pippa Evans particularly shone in this regard. Her series of shorts embodying the exaggerated characteristics of a man whose lack of enthusiasm for his own birthday bordered on catatonic were enough to have the crowd in fits of laughter within seconds of her entering the stage. Another audience member’s use of her fingers to sign her friend’s age was deftly developed by Foxcroft into a hilariously farcical extended bit set in an accountancy firm where numbers were not to be said aloud at any cost. Every performer had their moment. Some of the night’s best one liners went to Marcus Brigstocke, whose razor-sharp wit spun out pithy punchlines which were remarkably well-crafted, especially considering they were made up on the spot. More overt meta-theatrical considerations were the forte of Rachel Parris, whose acknowledgments of unconventional—or just downright weird— staging and fumbled pronunciations of her fellow comedians were not only funny in their own right, but were also taken onboard by other performers and adopted as new norms in the process of improvised world-building. Once acknowledged, these mistakes became real, deliberate, increasingly ridiculous and very, very funny, rendering Parris one of the evening’s most generous performers.
In a festival so rich in opportunity to see improvised comedy, what sets There Will Be Cake a slice above the rest is its slick professionalism. I have already mentioned the excellent performances of the four on stage, but special note must also be afforded to the frankly awe-inspiring talent of the technical crew. In a limited form such as sketch comedy something as simple as a well-timed lights up and down can make or break a punchline. In an improvised show, therefore, where there are no written jokes, it is left to the sound and light designer to judge a performance’s comic beats and work live alongside the performers to decide when a sketch has reached its natural conclusion. Not a beat was dropped here, and opportunities to use tech creatively were not missed. In one sketch, for example, a throwaway gag about Mary Poppins was called-back in the transition music when the song Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious began to play. It was a small touch, but a deliciously satisfying one. The collaboration on and offstage is electric, and ideas are bounced off of and built upon with mesmerising efficiency. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the show is how much the performers seem to be enjoying their own and each other’s comedy. Even when not onstage themselves, laughter can be heard pealing from the wings.
However, even with five star performances, what limits this show to four is its form. This style of sketch comedy— however fun— is ultimately inconsequential, and while other improv shows offer long form narratives based on more clearly signposted impetus, Let Them Eat Cake is a celebration of the silly and the transient, and the show’s aims are suitably loose and ambiguous. ‘There will be cake. Actual cake.’ promises the blurb, and with a Colin the caterpillar placed centre-stage throughout, the show certainly delivers on that front. However, with no other parameters set in terms of theme or premise, no expectations were built that could have been matched, exceeded or striven for.
Nevertheless, the show is an utter joy to behold and experience. If you are a fan of sketch comedy and/or highly skilled improv, There Will Be Cake has much more than baked birthday goods to offer.