Shellshock! Improv Live!

Wed 30th July – Mon 25th August 2014

reviews

Millie Morris

at 05:28 on 11th Aug 2014

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The team of 'ShellShock! Improv Live!' warn us of a 'rodent problem' the second we walk in, and just as I nearly slip into rat-panic mode I see that the floor is littered with live mousetraps. These provide substance for the first sketch, one which is uncomfortable to watch and a little masochistic -- but also a little bit funny. Unfortunately, as the show progresses, I am neither shell-shocked nor blown away by the quality of material Durham University's improvisation group provides.

It could be the scant audience or the fact that at times the actors struggle to reach that ba-doom-tsh moment, but there is a distinctly amateur feel about the show from the second we see two men flailing around amongst the mousetraps and joking that they will be doing that for an hour. As the traps begin to snap and clap when the actors perform a can-can dance at an audience member's suggestion, I squirm in my seat: this thrilling-turned-painful scenario is not pleasant to view, and becomes as uncomfortable to watch as it is to encounter the sharp silver pinch of toes within a trap. The monologues which follow are equally as awkward, with cast members struggling to blag their way through another suggested theme and producing just a small amount of smile-worthy comments.

However, in spite of the less successful moments, to the cast's credit there are equally some memorable jokes and witty one-liners. Flo Taylor-Jones is a standout as not only the sole female role in the cast but the funniest member, with clever quips and quick-witted observations. Josh Thomas, Jonny Lock, Ryan Murphy and Phil Davies equally have their moments, from depicting the love story between a slug and snail to the team effort of helping Taylor-Jones figure out how her character arrived at work by amusingly portraying a flying elephant.

Had there been a bigger audience, I'm sure the atmosphere would have heightened and the laughs increased; a little can go a long way with improv, and audience is everything. That said, it is certainly fair to say that those in the existing crowd were enjoying themselves, generally whooping and contributing with gusto. This group has potential, and perhaps with a little more practise and a culling of the monologues, the rather average show could have upped its game from quite humorous to blow-your-brains-out brilliant.

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Fay Watson

at 08:54 on 11th Aug 2014

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We enter a room filled with mouse-traps and are ushered in with warnings about the 'rodent' problem. Blindfolded and barefooted, our show started with two performers who Kan Kan to the tune of "ow, ow, ow, ow" whilst they stand on mouse traps. I am both wincing and laughing, having entered into a strange reality where this was considered amusing.

Wincing and laughing is quite a good expression for how I feel when watching improv. I am always terrified that the action will just stop and become horrifically awkward. But, thankfully given the confidence of these performers, this doesn't happen. The troop from Durham University produce an hour long improvisation show relying on the interjections of audience members to lead them. As such, there is a likelihood that the material I see is very different to every other night. A piece like this must primarily be judged on the quality of performers.

These five are strong and committed. It is obvious that they have been working together for a long time and are comfortable and trust one another - critical to the terrifying notion of improv. Flo Taylor-Jones particularly stands out and I enjoy her willingness to throw herself physically into each sketch. In one memorable case she becomes an endearing slug who succumbs to death at the hands of salted popcorn on the verge of shell cohabitation with a snail. Yes, this is a piece that certainly embraces the silly.

Yet, for all its merits, there are quite a few flaws. There is one particularly vexing sketch where the actors are constantly forced to fast forwards and rewind backwards. This is frustrating as it does not allow the scene to progress effectively, if at all. Also, too long is spent on improv sketches based on one word. In this case one performer doesn't even really involve himself. Furthermore, the stand-up comedy aspects based on these words are spasmodic and, at times, awkward.

All in all, this was a reasonably funny show that feels friendly and approachable. As an audience member, I feel part of the action. But format, pace and variety let it down. We are left with competent, likeable performances but in an awkward show.

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