“A festive evening of laughter to celebrate the end of term as the Christmas season approaches…

“It smells like your dad!”

“How do you know the smell of his dad?”

“That’s…not relevant”

Who doesn’t love a good Christmas-themed improv comedy show? Watching the improvisers come up with witty lines and sketches on the spot, and adopting different characters from audience prompts – it’s all mad fun! Shellshock!, Durham’s premier improv comedy group, delivered just that, with a festive evening of laughter to celebrate the end of term as the Christmas season approaches.

It was clear from the get-go that the improvers were super enthusiastic and were just as excited for the improv as we were. It was also a good idea to get the audience warmed up first, asking us all to shout out our names and favourite colours to get the energy pumping before the first game – ‘Story, Story, Die!’. Improvisers had to continue a story from the point where the other person left off, and any stammering or incoherence would disqualify them. Ben Bradley, Will Hynes and Molly Tate-Barnes really stood out in this segment, concocting an entertaining and whimsical storyline around finding the meaning of Christmas. The second game – ‘Naughty and Nice’ required improvisers to swap places and alternate between ‘naughty’ and ‘nice’ tones. It was really fun to see the tonal shifts in the same scene (between a teacher and ballet dancer), and Hynes’ comedy around being the ‘naughty’ one was hilarious! Some lines were extremely witty and left the audience in peals of laughter.

The third game – ‘Ice Statues’ was enjoyable as well, with improvisers shouting “FREEZE!” to take the other person’s position and start a new scene in the exact same position. Again, the sudden tonal shifts in stories were humorous and demanded a lot of physical energy from the improvisers. Nemo Royle really stood out with strong physical comedy talent. The fourth segment of the show was called ‘Identity Parade’, where the improvisers had to step forward and create a new scene whenever they were called. It was funny to watch how the different scenes panned out, and the physical comedy landed well. The fifth segment – ‘Pan Left’ really left the audience in splits, with odd characters being prompted from the audience and many incongruent conversations that followed. Ben Bradley and Jess Harris shone here, crafting the wittiest scenarios, and a well-timed joke about Kanye generated a lot of laughter.

The new game called ‘Broomsticks’ felt like the weakest section of the show. While the game itself was inventive, requiring the Improvisers to puppeteer each other as they ‘fell into a deep slumber’, the sketch felt a tad unfunny. However, once the ‘puppeteering’ began, it was fun to see how the improvisers had to wobble around yelling “Broomsticks!” to control the fallen characters and re-enact the whole scene again. Tate-Barnes, Royle and Ben Braje made a mark as they had to work with a lot of physical comedy, and the re-telling of a ‘marshmallow’ joke was amusing to watch.

The last three games were the strongest of the lot, starting with the segment ‘Objection’ – where two pairs had to keep making suggestions to improve a scene. George Lea had the most comical objections, and a repeated gag about steak never grew tiring. The penultimate segment – ‘Meanwhile…’ definitely took the cake, where all the strengths of the improvisers were showcased in a long-form Christmas story set in Ancient Egypt. There was so much from Royle’s portrayal as the eccentric Pharoah, Hynes’ tired and beaten down performance that never got old, the concept of importing snow to Egypt, the ‘denial’ joke that was brought back, three ghosts of time, ‘pissmas’ puns, self-aware, meta gags… it was an absolute delight to watch the scene unfold!

As per long-standing tradition, the improv show ended with a segment titled ‘Sex with Me’, a punchy end to the whole show indeed. It was Christmas-themed, with the wildest audience prompts and hysterical one-liners. Lea definitely nailed this section out here with the most comical (and wildly inappropriate!) punchlines. Also, RIP to Hynes’ final fumbled-up punchline!

‘Shellshock’ is clearly a talented bunch of people who truly love comedy and enjoy the process of improvisation. Every improviser has a unique skillset that works wonders when they all come together, and so I hope they receive well-deserved love and excitement for their upcoming shows!

By Akash Sivakumar

Photo Credits: Shellshock!