Sketch comedy duo ‘Megan from HR’ consists of Durham graduates Andrew Shires and Ambika Mod, who have returned to Durham to perform a one-off performance of their sketch comedy show, ‘Children of the Quorn’ in the Spare Room on Palace Green (the Assembly Rooms’ temporary space while the main theatre is being refurbished). Shires and Mod, who are both former members of sketch comedy group the Durham Revue, have since gone on to perform two sold out shows in London, and are set to perform ‘Children of the Quorn’ at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer.
‘Children of the Quorn’, despite being performed by alumni, seemed to fall somewhat pray to the trap which often occurs in student theatre, of relying on the fact that the Durham audience is largely made up of the cast’s friends and peers. The comedy duo therefore acted at times in accordance with an assumed pre-established rapport with the audience, rather than first working to build that relationship. For example, the show began with Mod entering the stage and beginning to organise the various items that were scattered around the set, whilst implying that it was Shires who created the mess. Without prior knowledge of Shires (and perhaps his role within the Durham Revue), Mod’s “for fuck sake, Andrew” might lose some of its entertainment value. Whilst the show remained self-referential throughout, making jokes predicated on knowledge of Shires and Mod’s personalities, once their personalities were established and the audience were brought ‘in’ on the joke, the sketches themselves were very funny and clever. As a comedic duo, Shires and Mod have a well-balanced on-stage energy, with Shires playing the more energetic foil to Mod’s deadpan delivery.
There were, however, times when the duo’s Durham Revue roots continued to show: throughout ‘Children of the Quorn’ ran a thread of self-awareness, such as ending sketches with humorous and intentionally ‘awkward’ explanations of an element of the sketch. This is a gimmick which the Durham Revue often use, as have several other sketch comedy troupes. Whilst well executed in ‘Children of the Quorn’, this element felt, at least for this reviewer, a little stale.
The comedy duo’s greatest strength was how comfortable they appeared on stage, which in turn translated into a relaxed and enjoyable evening for the audience. The laid-back atmosphere which Shires and Mod created led, at times, to the duo appearing perhaps too comfortable, laughing along with the audience at their own jokes. Nevertheless, the duo’s relaxed and receptive attitude allowed for spontaneity and a quickness on their feet. They responded remarkably well to little slip-ups and unexpected moments, such as when Shires accidentally spoiled the punchline of a sketch, as well as not being thrown off by small technical issues and unexpected audience reactions. In short, their flexibility allowed them to connect with the audience. For example, when the duo brought an audience member on stage to participate in using a ouija board, Mod and Shires were very natural and spontaneous in their interaction with the audience member, responding to the situation at hand rather than trying to fit to an exact script.
Whilst Shires and Mod appeared at times to rely on their ‘home advantage’ whilst performing in Durham, their responsiveness to the audience leaves me with little doubt that they will tailor their performance to whatever audience they are placed in front of, and if any Durham students are attending the Edinburgh Fringe, ‘Children of the Quorn’ is definitely worth a watch.