Review: The Shambles and Freshers’ Sketch Show

This week’s Comedy Society production was a blend of improvisation and sketches that somehow muddled together into a thoroughly enjoyable show. While improvisation is a difficult thing to get completely right, that slight edginess was balanced beautifully with a set of brilliantly written sketches.

The Shambles, York’s premier improvisation team, are really getting into their stride now; the humour is quick and fast, and even if it doesn’t always work, the sense of teamwork shines through. They are a collective group, sounding and bouncing off each other and the audience to create new ideas and structures. By far the best ‘game’ of the evening was ‘Tonal Shift’, involving two Shambles improvising a scene with the ‘helpful’ aid of a soundtrack of thematic music. While the idea is not new, it made the two involved work together in magnificent harmony, and the true hilarity and genius came from that collective teamwork. The genuine charisma on stage made it funny.

It was a good lead in to the sketches, performed by a group of freshers. Clearly a lot of hard work had gone into them, and though some fell through, the majority were exceptionally well written, bursting with humour. The best revolved around simple concepts and ideas, with one destroying the idea of the Thunderbirds in one fell swoop, and another set taking collective sweeps at lift and shop attendants. Another, with characteristic surreal brilliance, revolved around marmalade, job fairs, and masochism. These did vary in delivery (some of the cast were perhaps a little weaker than could have been possible), but they did warm up, and some real gems did shine through; a sketch on the military in particular was delivered with solid and reliably funny timing.

There were two in particular that had clearly been chosen to push the boundaries. One was on class, playing on the famous sketch from the Frost Report, but pushing it forward to the modern day, which was almost brilliant but was a little clumsy in the precise wording. The other, chosen to end the show, was a ‘metasketch’, a sketch about doing a sketch, which sounds dire, but actually worked brilliantly. The script was again impeccable, and the delivery was pitch-perfect. The final lines were delivered with such a straight face and such emotion that there was no option but to laugh.

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, well balanced and put together, and glittering with a sense that the cast were enjoying themselves together. It was amateur comedy at its best.