This week, ComedySoc’s The Shambles presented not just improv, but long-form Chicago style improv – rather than a series of short skits, this form of improvisation is much more narrative. It carries themes, jokes and characters throughout the set, creating a much more self-sufficient type of comedy.
I’m never ceased to be amazed by the consistent enthusiasm and energy of The Shambles. Their lively entrance set the tone of what was to be a bold, buoyant and somewhat bizarre evening of comedy – but all the better for it. As a break from the norm, long-form Chicago style improv is far less reliant on audience participation, asking them for only one word at the start of each half to kick start the action. And boy, did they bring action. As The Shambles took us from scene to scene, we were introduced to an brilliantly eclectic cast of characters, ranging from Professor Irony and his school of lisping right through to Mungo Tatton-Brown’s wonderfully bipolar Heffelump.
Particular mention must go to “The Brambles” sketches, the hilarious French anti-comedy counterpart to The Shambles, trying to ‘sabotage’ the night of improv. It was during these scenes that we really got to see the imaginative skill and comedic fluency of the troupe; here they best played off each other, and we saw them really utilising the long-form style of improvisation to create a rewarding narrative.
However, this is a doubled edged sword. Whilst successful characters and stories were developed richly and effectively, dragged along with them were skits which perhaps lacked the same comedic effectuality. Some sketches just didn’t have the life expectancy that others did yet were resurrected time and time again. However, this is more of a critique on the style of improvisation than of the performers themselves, who handled this somewhat unwieldy comedic form well.
One thing I couldn’t help but notice was that there was only one female performer amongst The Shambles. I don’t know if this is representative of ComedySoc, but it did strike me as a bit of a sausagefest, which is a shame. In what is such a male-dominated industry, it would be nice to see more budding female performers at York. Be that as it may, those who did perform achieved a joviality hard to resist by all involved.
Brimming with a vigorous energy and enthusiasm, and yet a slickness that could only point to many hours of practise and experience in the field, The Shambles have shown that they can make an audience laugh from just about anything.