Panoptican

Tue 17th – Sat 21st November 2015

reviews

Joanna Taylor

at 09:05 on 18th Nov 2015

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Individually, the sketches were uproariously funny. Opening with the hilarious complaints of three liberals against the Tory government - of 1866 - Panopticon is set up as, ultimately, intelligent comedy. The script is clever, but it’s not smirk-at-their-wit kind of clever, more ‘laugh so much the actors have to wait to reassume their lines’ clever.

Many scenes, like the thoughts of a trophy engraver during the final moments of the world cup (inexplicably Fulham vs Barcelona) or the suggestions of Craggly Joe about what one should do with a drunken sailor, are innovative and brilliant. Even those which have been done before in one form or another, such as the internet speaking to someone using it, or the internal thoughts of a guy on an awkward date are updated with fresh and hilarious material (involving Buzzfeed and werewolves respectively).

The comedy isn’t just clever though, it’s also delectably nerdy. A scene from Lord of the Rings is re-enacted with such perfection that no punchline is needed to have the audience in fits of laughter. Yoda makes an appearance, and the Thunderbirds, not to mention ‘Tess of the Baskervilles’ and the Battle of Hastings. The versatility of the Footlights, whose comic genius can be seen in the writing and performing of the show, means that the vast majority of the eighteen (!) sketches are a resounding success. A little slap-stick creeps into the climax of the final sketch (understandable) but otherwise this is the stuff that Cambridge comedy should be made of.

All three Footlights were equally strong, there was no weak link or overshadowing. Tom Fairbairn, fantastic for impassioned performances, particularly as a conspiracy theorist and Craggly Joe; Rob Oldham, perhaps the most versatile, skimming through awkward werewolf wannabe, David Brent-like boss and sporty sperm champion; and Oliver Taylor, disconcertingly adroit at playing Wormtongue and the deranged Doctor Dickhead, are all comedy talents to watch (in Panopticon and in the future.)

Panopticon was an extremely enjoyable evening, and comes highly recommended as a comedy highlight of Michaelmas term. Despite this, it could have had greater variety: perhaps because the comedic styles of the actors were not that far from one another, or perhaps because the majority of the sketches were very similar in length, it lacked the overall structure of a performance like Toucan (a similarly successfully sketch comedy that took place earlier this term). Links were made between some sketches, which accumulate in its hilarious final scene, but otherwise the audience were plunged into darkness a little too frequently when other media could have been explored, such as radio which is used once for the Thunderbirds sketch.

However, you go to a sketch show to laugh, and laugh you will. The show remains of consistent high quality, is very original and even, in places, high-brow. Absolutely not to be missed.

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William Tilbrook

at 09:44 on 18th Nov 2015

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With the Corpus Playroom packed out with an excitable audience, the atmosphere was ripe for a night of zany, high speed, and hopefully comic sketches, and Panopticon was firing on all of these cylinders and delivered much more. With a bit of something funny for everyone, the show delivers some fantastically original sketches coupled with some of the finest in sketch show acting that Cambridge has to offer.

Beginning on a piece of satire centred on the politics of the 1860s but remaining teasingly on the edge of relevance to the modern day, you could tell that the audience was in store for some well thought-out sketches, written by the highly talented trio comprised of Tom Fairbairn, Rob Oldham, and Oliver Taylor, and this sketch was just the first in a long line of intelligent comic scenarios that never went close to patronising the audience and nearly always caused much laughter and applause.

The writing therefore must be commended, and is one of the two main items that make this show stand out. A multitude of sketches are showcased, and the sheer number is something to be impressed by in itself, let alone the fact that they are all so varied and some highly original. They range from the downright bizarre world of a child who illustrates her father’s mind in a drawing, through a hilarious imitation of The Lord of the Rings, to the surreal meeting with the Internet in person, and a particular favourite of mine was the sperm swimming gala piece. Rarely was there a sketch that didn’t meet the mark, although the conspiracy theory one I feel could have been toned down in light of recent events.

The second reason to see this show is for the comic acting ability Fairbairn, Oldham and Taylor have to offer. After warming up in the first few minutes, the three of them showed how well they were able to work together, complementing each other’s strengths particularly in the final scenes. They showed such control over their work that there was never a time when you felt their abilities lacking or yourself uncomfortably left in the hands of amateurs. Combined with their unique collection of material, it is this that makes the show worth watching.

There were times when one might ask for a bit of variety in the technical aspects of the production however. Bar only a few examples, the sketches were executed with little regard to the effect of lighting or sound. Although this was not to the detriment of any of the actual skits as they were all very good in their own rights, this would have made the actual production stand out a bit more, rather than the ability of the cast/writers having to do all of the hard work.

In addition, the sheer number of sketches included in the show meant that nearly all of them were quite short, something which kept the audience on their toes but also perhaps wishing for a bit more variation in sketch length. Slowing some of the sketches down would have given some more time to settle in before the comic rocket took off again.

Having said this, Panopticon is a brilliantly written piece of sketch show comedy overall. It is fast-paced (and rightly so), intelligent, original and well-executed, and one of the best of its kind for this term.

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