The Shambles

Fri 3rd – Sat 25th August 2018


Ella Kemp

at 02:29 on 16th Aug 2018



Have you ever actually watched a whole sales pitch on one of the late night teleshopping channels? The experience is rarely intentional, and hardly insightful. And yet somehow, in their very first game, improvised sketch comedy troupe 'The Shambles' manage to make the room erupt into laughter as a horse-riding saleswoman tries to sell acid-infused moisturiser.

Improv can be irretrievably messy. There’s a responsibility from both performers and audience members to keep the narrative alive, and to support its success. When improvising, it’s easy to let stories spiral out of control, relying on the generosity of everyone in the room to just keep laughing for moral support.

But when you have as much skilful control as The Shambles — you don’t need moral support. The show is clearly broken down into a series of games. They’re fairly straightforward and self-explanatory, from “Should Have Said” to “Meanwhile” and “Follow Them”. The performers take it in turn to compere and to improvise, using audience suggestions to fill in the gaps with nearly always impressive results.

The show succeeds because the gaps are only satisfying an already solid structure. There’s clear practice and insight in each game: every performer is tuned in to the beats they need to hit. These comedians know where their strengths lie, and how to tickle the audience’s weak spots.

Confidence is essential to convince not just the viewers but also your fellow performers that everything is going to end well. The Shambles’ pacing is smart and involving, testifying to the inherent charisma of such a promising young troupe. Ollie Jones, Georgina Newman and George Blackman effortlessly owned the scenes they created, simultaneously imaginative and instinctive in their chosen narratives, as well as contributing subtly hilarious unstructured reactions that let the audience relax, knowing they were always in safe hands.

It’s rare to witness levels of extravagant hilarity existing within a simple, comprehensible format, which in theory relies on the wonder of unpredictability. But The Shambles know exactly what they’re doing. And at such a relatively early stage in their career, it’s an exciting event to be a part of.


Thomas Goodyer

at 08:19 on 16th Aug 2018



What makes good improvised comedy, such as that performed by University of York's 'The Shambles', is hard to locate.

Perhaps it's to do with balance: balancing the fret and jerk of something necessarily fast-paced, with the also necessary structure which gives the tentacled whirr of spontaneity shape and meaning. 'The Shambles' do this very well. The spotted randomness of the show, performed as a series of dramatic games, never descended into the ‘hey, well aren’t we so random?’- that swallows less accomplished shows, but likewise the performance was never stilted. It felt fluid and natural, buoyed by frantic energy.

Perhaps improv should be judged by the bits which don’t land. There were a few: “hi, I’m John Lemon” died a rightfully quick death – but the pace and the troupe’s willingness to help each other out swept them away quickly, without being allowed to un-kilter the show. This requires a sensitivity to the audience’s engagement (something again often missing from improv shows) and a level of understanding between performers, so that you can feel and steer where a sketch is going. Both of these things are hard and should be credited, when done well, as they are here.

Perhaps what makes it hard to know why an improv show is good is that the format’s appeal is centered around quick gratification. If you’ve got a thought in your head you can just shout it into the plunging semi-darkness of some bar’s backroom, and watch as some strangers try to transform that barked “how about a nightclub, but in space,” that brazen “mime moisturiser, but if it was acidic and that” into a coherent and funny scene. It's mob rule willing the creation of a story about an Alan key called Alan, and seeing that it is good, which makes it hard to quantify in a formal sense.

However, this shouldn’t cheapen the experience, and the sharpness of the performance shouldn’t be blunted by the immediacy of the entertainment value it offers. Therefore, the achievements of 'The Shambles', shouldn’t be written off.


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