The Shambles

Mon 13th – Sat 18th August 2012


Mel Melville

at 09:26 on 17th Aug 2012



What an energetic entrance these performers have! As loud rock music fills the audience’s ears, The Shambles sprint on stage, jumping around, wrestling, and God knows what else. The host (Odinn Hilmarsson) is undoubtedly very funny and he knows how to work up the crowd, but maybe a little too well. Everyone loves a lively audience at an improvised show, but a hideously rowdy one is not the key to an enjoyable experience.

The show is filled with short games and so not one performer has to commit to a certain character for more than six minutes. Each game is very different from the next and towards the end a few improvised songs feature. This team do not just take a seed and run with it, they allow the audience to paint the entire picture themselves, leaving the improvisers with absolutely no freedom. This is incredibly impressive because the performers must incorporate all of the ideas into each scene but this also means that there is barely any element of surprise. As an audience member, you know exactly where the scene is taking place, who the characters are and what must be said. Yes, it is exciting waiting for your suggestion to be played out in front of you and yes it requires plenty of ability and strokes of genius but it is also very limiting both to watch and to perform.

A lactating bacon press and a diabetic inflatable cactus featured in the first game as we flitted from one shopping channel to another through mime. It was all incredibly entertaining and then the host approached the audience again demanding suggestions. The host doesn’t take the first proposal, or the second, third or fourth, he simply leaves the audience to yell, scream and holler. A drunken audience member will have a whale of a time, but anyone looking to be stunned by talent will merely be agitated. It is obvious that the team of improvisers are extremely talented and we see this through their quick wit. Every performer is likeable and it is genuinely enjoyable to see each of them having such a great time on stage. Throughout the show they are bursting with energy and exploding with confidence.

Unfortunately, I struggled to get past the ridiculous amount of audience interaction. I feel as if I spent far too much time listening to a rowdy audience then I did admiring the performers. There is evidence of intelligent and sharp improvisers and Dan Wood blew me away each time that he took to the stage. If any improviser slacked at any point, and a few of them did, then Dan would jump in and save the scene. George Hughes impressed me at points and Stephanie Bartlett was having such a fantastic time that you couldn’t help but enjoy watching her.

One of my favourite games included a performer and her date, a lucky audience member, heading to a Viking themed restaurant where the rest of the cast drop in hints disguised as waiters. Many of the games were highly entertaining and it is obvious that the team are well polished but perhaps, for maximum enjoyment, an afternoon show would be more appropriate. As it is, the show is chaotic madness but it is unquestionably funny.


Steve Hartill

at 09:35 on 17th Aug 2012



The Shambles are an improvised comedy group based in York, and they advertise themselves as basing their scenes entirely on the audience’s suggestions. This is certainly true: in comparison to other improvised shows, the Shambles receive a distinctly higher number of audience suggestions. This comes naturally with the format of doing short and snappy games, rather than long and complex scenes, but even so they do ask the audience for a lot of ideas, and the audience are very willing to oblige. However this does lead to chaos on stage, where the audience are shouting out ideas for a longer period of time than the improvisers are actually performing them. This also leads to problems in terms of scenes and characters. Other improvisation troupes prioritise developing characters and creating engrossing scenes, but the Shambles’ dizzyingly fast pace means that the improvisers do not have time to create interesting characters spontaneously, instead being forced to consistently go for the gag.

A strength that the Shambles possess is their incredibly high energy on stage. They enter dynamically and with a confidence that is sometimes rare in improvisation troupes, and every member of the cast brings buckets of energy to all of their games. They also consistently support each other in terms of accepting what the other improvisers are offering, and their puns and plays on words are excellent. The host (Odinn Hilmarsson) for the evening is excellent, getting the audience excited and involved in the show, and although I don’t think improvisers should be singled out in the group, as the cast are supporting each other and working as a team, special mention should be made of Dan Wood, who throws himself into every game that he’s in.

There are complete lighting changes and moments where music is played within the show that, again, get the audience excited and ready to shout things out at the stage. Use of coloured lighting for different games is clever, and musical interludes between each maintain the same significant level of energy throughout the show. The Shambles are doing fairly basic improvisation that encourages quick-witted responses and one-liners: it is not a complex piece of improvised theatre, but rather a showcase of the sharp wits of the performers on stage. Although there are shows of improvisation that are more complex and engrossing, the Shambles are still worth a watch. They are funny and extremely entertaining, if sometimes a little bit exhausting.


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