The Birmingham Footnotes Drop Their Trousers

Sat 4th – Sat 11th August 2012

reviews

Lettice Franklin

at 21:11 on 9th Aug 2012

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“Why am I here? I don’t really know... I work three jobs to fund this free f**king show.” So sang the Birmingham Footnotes in the song that opened their show. Even then, only about 30 seconds in, I was tempted to shout out over-excitedly: “Because you’re great! You’re charming, funny, self-aware in the best possible way and just GREAT!”

This opening song showcases all the best things found in the sketch show that follows. It was refreshing to see performers acknowledging the effort that goes into a Fringe show, and the toll it can take on morale and health. On entering the venue the audience are greeted with the sight of the comedians, underwear exposed, waiting for seats to fill and music to stop. One I’m pretty sure had a nap standing up, another mopped his brow. These were people quite obviously and honestly suffering the effects of flyering, performing every day, and perhaps excessive drinking the night before. That we were all sat in a dark nightclub in the middle of the afternoon, and that all of them had their trousers around their ankles, added to the sense that life at the Fringe was not easy, or at least not totally conventional, for the Footnotes.

The ensuing sketches were best when dealing with topics that rang true to the lives of actors and audience alike. I loved the sketch impersonating a comedy panel show - and wouldn’t be surprised to see, in the future, any of the Footnotes filling the seats they borrowed for it. Similarly the series of sketches showing awkward dancing - in circles, and culminating with Chazz Redhead magnificently interrupting with a manic, almost tribal boogie - was simple and brilliant.

The group of six comedians from Birmingham University are great at acting, with not one weak link among them. They worked well together, teasing each other gently and allowing each other to take the limelight in turn without anyone being missed out.

Unfortunately my initial ecstasy and over-excitement did wane slightly. The strength of this show is in the acting, rather than in the writing. It is notable that the hilarious dancing sketch was totally non-verbal. Even such skilled performers could not make jokes like someone saying “Neil”, and two people on stage kneeling (get it, nudge, nudge) seem funny the second time it happened.

The strongest sketches could afford to be more adventurous. Voldermort (Hal Geller), with masking tape across his nose and an uncannily accurate mastering of Ralph Fiennes physical mannerisms, prompted uproarious laughter with a comment incorporating anoraks and Facebook events.

In short, there are many much worse sketch shows at the Fringe this year for which you must fork out close to a tenner. Skip those and come to this “free f**king show” every day - deserves to be far more than just a footnote!

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Claire Dalling

at 09:10 on 10th Aug 2012

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As far as attention seeking titles go, ‘Birmingham Footnotes Drop Their Trousers’ is up there with the best. And, I can confirm, that they do indeed all drop their trousers. Well, apart from Ashlea Dutton. She pulls up her dress. But this is not why you should go and see them perform, because their charming and unpretentious comedy is far more of an allure than the chance to see their pants.

With only three, free, performances in the rather dingy Base nightclub, this is one of the less prominent university sketch troupes at the Fringe. Having seen two disappointing similar shows in as many days, albeit without my reviewer hat on, I was beginning to think that sketch comedy just wasn’t for me. I’m also not a fan of cheap gags or slapstick comedy, and I don’t go to Birmingham University. So I was clearly not the ideal audience member when arrived. But I left converted, because, despite the protestations detailed in “The Low Self-Esteem Song”, they’re genuinely funny, and I for one am exceedingly glad and grateful that they “worked three f**king jobs to fund this free f**king show”.

The Footnotes took the brave decision to comprise their show of fewer, longer sketches, instead of a rapid succession of single laugh scenes. These are punctuated by comic train station announcements, which keep the audience entertained while small set alterations take place. This minor but effective detail is testament to the professionalism of the troupe, and the fact that they truly care about the show. Such delightful niches are also to be found in their props, as they prove that something as everyday as duck tape can transform an ordinary man into Lord Voldemort. Indeed, the real secret of the Footnotes’ success is their simplicity. This comedy is not trying to be overly clever, but takes recognisable situations and makes them funnier. The audience does not have to run to keep up with the jokes, and this contributes to the relaxed and supportive atmosphere. Of course, no one will find every single sketch hilarious, but judging by the general level of uproarious laughter the Footnotes have a pretty good average.

Chazz Redhead, Ashlea Dutton, Jack Toop, Jack Robertson, Hal Geller and Mikey Brownlee each earn equal mention and applause. As individuals, they prove that they can easily hold the stage, but when all six unite there is a true magic. And the best part is that they do not seem to know just how good they really are. Their entirely unassuming stage presence is charming, but not pity-laugh inducing, and, judging by the giggles coming from the side of the stage, they really do seem to find each other funny. When I wasn’t laughing I was smiling, because these guys exude honest-to-goodness fun and, if I was even remotely funny myself, I’d want to be their seventh member.

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