Durham’s Shellshock! at the Fringe: ‘unpolished but has potential’

By Zoë Boothby

Shellshock!, Durham’s Improvised Comedy Society’s performance troupe, returns to the Edinburgh Fringe this year for their ninth consecutive run. Unfortunately, this experience does not translate into an assured performance from the group. Even at its best Shellshock! feels unpolished and underdeveloped, suffering from a lack of showmanship.

Though one can expect a low level of originality in student improvisation, the games that the group play are essentially the same as those by other improv troupes. The problem is that this similarity only serves to highlight the group’s shortcomings, as these concepts are often executed to a higher standard elsewhere at the Fringe. The interrogation piece, for example, is a common skit on the improv circuit, and Shellshock! fails to add anything new or interesting to the format. This is the central problem with Shellshock!’s show: the group are consistently undermined, not by their own lack of talent, but by the wealth of it on offer at other shows during the Edinburgh Festival.

One of the troupe’s greatest strengths, however, is its ability to successfully engage and interact with the audience. They are able to read and manage audience members, and the show is certainly aided by enthusiastic participation. Funny proposals (sex for the over-70s, anyone?) and an improv game, in which two particular members provide sustained single-word suggestions, are particular highlights.

Some segments fail to run as seamlessly as they should, though; switchovers during skits are, on occasion, unprofessional. And although a number of the performers in Shellshock! display potential, many of them struggle to establish themselves within the group. Special mention must go to Aca and Amelia as these two both exude the necessary confidence and provide some of the show’s most successful gags.

In Shellshock! it is hard to get a handle on the individual strengths of the group, and a number of performers struggle to assert their comic identity. The line-up would no doubt benefit from greater diversity. In more accomplished improvisation comedy troupes, I find that individual members are often able to convey their own distinct brand of humour. This allows various voices to come together and compliment each other.

Although there were certainly potential in the show, for Durham’s comedy improv troupe it may take a bit of work and polish until they are of a high enough standard to compete with many of their counterparts at the Fringe.

Photograph: Amelia Mehra

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