Successfully improvising a show requires the cast to think on its feet, work together easily and anticipate each others’ lines. Improvising a comedy sketch show requires the cast to produce funny scenarios that have the potential for laughs and then play off audience reaction by developing the jokes that work. This isn’t in any way easy; the cast of Shellshock! certainly put in the effort but overall they miss the mark.
The show is structured around different scenarios that one performer explains before initiating and taking control of the scene. For example, two performers improvise a scene around the word ‘apple’ (suggested by the audience) whilst the performer in control can switch direction and play the scene in reverse at any given moment. This comes across as awkward; since the actors themselves can’t remember how the scene has initially developed they are unable to play it backwards. Another scene required four performers to narrate a story in different literary styles chosen by the audience – Dickens, J.K. Rowling and Stephen King are all suggested. The issue here is that the story doesn’t really go anywhere and the actors themselves aren’t particularly convincing in adopting the chosen literature style; the concept may work better with stronger and more defined categories (film genres perhaps) to give each comedian more ammunition to work with.
Some of the scenarios produce more successful comedy. Still life holiday snaps are recreated by the performers as one narrates his trip to Benidorm in the middle of winter; one performer recites a monologue around a chosen word (such as ‘cyclops’) which the comedians then use as inspiration for a long improvisation piece; two performers re-enact a scene using lines that the audience has written. These all work because the performers tune into their audience – they react to the parts that the audience laugh at, take advantage of these and develop them into the piece. The scene in a hospital using the audience lines is the star of the show, with contributions such a,s “It’s me, Delia Smith!” and, “I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly,” providing unanticipated comedy.
Improvised comedy is tricky and so the troupe are to be applauded for their efforts. But at the end of the day, the way to gauge the success of the show is by the number of laughs, which are too few and far between in this case.
Shellshock! plays at theSpace at Jury’s Inn (venue 260) until August 29 as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For more information, visit the EdFringe website.