Toucan

Tue 20th – Sat 24th October 2015

reviews

William Tilbrook

at 01:45 on 21st Oct 2015

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Very few first shows of a run can be called a complete success- this one is no exception; however, in all, Toucan lived up to being as vibrant and exotic as its avian namesake, and generally very fun to be a part of.

The stage for this sketch show, performed by the Footlights players, is set up on arrival in the style of a tropically themed jumble sale- everything from watermelons to guitars to footballs adorn the performance space- and from this moment on, it is clear that the show is to be a surreal one.

The team don’t disappoint; despite a shaky start in terms of misjudged pacing for the first few sketches, where all four talents appear, the performance goes on to keep the tempo suitably fast, with sketch after sketch delivering top quality acting, particularly from Sam Grabiner, and some laugh-out-loud moments. Even in between sketches the audience aren’t left alone, with cheeky side-glances from Guy Emanuel delighting the crowd and questionable dance moves from the ensemble during the musical interludes keeping those seated on their toes.

To be particularly commended are the ideas behind nearly all of the pieces. They are strikingly original- never before have I seen displayed an acting lampshade: a scene well-led by Theo Wethered, followed by a cocktail made by a French chef and an orang-utan, played with relish by Jordan Mitchell, and this is what makes the show so vibrant; the range of the imagination presented is huge. This and the versatility of the performers make it a delight to be a part of and to be frequently surprised.

Indeed, audience involvement is a key component of Toucan. Members are asked up on stage a few times, and the production is clearly aware that this is where its strengths lie, by even mocking itself at times, creating an atmosphere in the intimate setting of the Corpus Playroom of inclusion and playfulness.

A standout sketch has to be where an audience member has their thoughts broadcast via the media of audio and film, and although some rather major technical difficulties did get in the way of this excellently inventive idea being executed seamlessly, the cast did not let this slow them down. A chance to show their improvisation skills really highlighted the comic talent they possess, and whilst I am not saying that these mishaps should be included every night- I’m sure they will be ironed out as the week progresses- I am saying that, for me, it certainly did not detract from the material that was planned.

As my first experience of live sketch show comedy, both in and also outside of Cambridge, this was certainly an exciting insight into what is possible with a talented cast and an imaginative set of comic ideas. Although it was not flawless in execution on the night- pacing and technical issues are notable- this matters little when the show is seen as a whole, as the wacky experience the rainforest-themed sketches deliver leaves one wonderfully clueless as to what could possibly be coming next.

It is certainly worth venturing out to catch this creative creature of a show whilst you still can.

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Joanna Taylor

at 09:58 on 21st Oct 2015

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Toucan, a comedy sketch-show by the Cambridge Footlights, was an endearing and eclectic mix of the subversive and the hilarious. Pockets of refreshingly innovative theatre stood shoulder-to-shoulder with slap-stick and psychedelic surrealism, creating a diverse and highly enjoyable night of entertainment. The delivery of the show did perhaps leave a little to be desired, and there were certainly some sketches which outclassed others, but the performance was made by the infectious energy and outstanding acting of the Footlights themselves.

Boxes of tennis balls in and around the seats of Corpus Playroom as audience members arrived set the ‘anything could happen’ mood essential to original comedy- and anything did. To begin the performance we had to use the balls to knock down four coconut shies, at which point a giant coconut came crashing through the door, bewailing the massacre of his children. The standard of such bathos was therefore set, and met, from the beginning, particularly in the stripped-back sketches such as the three Venus flytraps or the unruly desk lamp. The former, without props or special effects, created the kind of something-from-nothing comedy I had been avidly anticipating, whilst the latter combined visual effects of lighting and movement with brilliant writing. The sketches were weaved together with the premise that each was occurring at the remote rainforest resort of Hotel Toucana, which enabled the Footlights to create a coherent and comedic overall structure and to experiment with a number of different media. Breaks between scenes were accompanied by the hotel’s radio station, for instance, and in one somewhat genius sketch, an audience-member’s thoughts were read out from a microphone and displayed on television screens. Her remembrance of an encounter with her uncle in a swimming pool (“I completely misjudged that situation”) still had me laughing by the time I returned to college.

The show could have gone even further, however, as the four actors proved that they were capable of pulling off riskier scenes and had the audience onside throughout (even when technical difficulties took over). Some moments were a little conventional- the occasional inclusion of cans of Coca-Cola for sponsorship reasons has been done before in the IT Crowd and Alan Partridge, for instance- and others verged on a little too slap-stick. Greater infusion of the different elements of the show, and more confidence in the writing, would have made an excellent performance outstanding (a couple of times, such as in ‘Roses for the Lady’ the joke was explained after the audience had already got it). It would be unfair to say, however, that the comedy was not self-conscious: pretentious thespian terms were satirised by the desk-lamp whilst moments of the show itself were mocked when played back on one of the T.V.s.

Fantastic acting, writing and directing, as I said before, completed the performance and were achieved almost exclusively by the Footlights themselves (with a little help from producer Alex Cartlidge and lighting designer Johnny King). Sam Grabiner is a natural comedian, making witty writing hilarious through the odd gesture or glance at the audience, and particularly shone as the director of Wildstar: The Armada of Cosmic Stingrays. Jordan Mitchell and Guy Emanuel are also names to watch out for in future: their natural talent and the infectious energy of their stage-presence make it difficult to believe that these actors are still students at the university rather than full-time professionals (for now).

Go and see Toucan at Corpus Playroom this week and prepare to leave behind the real world of angry supervisors and essay deadlines to instead enter an alternative and subversive paradigm of brilliant comedy in a tropical rainforest setting. The performance did have its glitches, but I found myself enjoying each sketch so much that I didn’t want the evening to end, and would thoroughly recommend the show to anyone with a love of comedy or a good aim for a coconut shy.

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