Once Upon A Time

Sat 4th – Sun 19th August 2012


Hannah Buckley

at 22:59 on 5th Aug 2012



The blurb for this set it up as a really good night, and indeed the fairytale format works really well. Yet I found it somewhat disappointing. The cast was given great material to work with by the audience, but bad acting and awkward moments of silence made me grimace at several points throughout the performance.

The show starts with a few standard warm up improvisation games. However in one of the games, ‘Change’, the cast didn’t really seem to understand the point of it. This put a downer on the rest of the show, and for me it never really recovered.

The compère (Will Garnier) asks the audience to give the fairy tale and the setting for the show. We ended up having a stone-age version of 'Beauty and the Beast'. Garnier was very good at clarifying the different stages of the plot, and making sure that the audience understood where we were. The way the cast actually spun out the plot was good. However, there were a lot of problems. For one, it lacked continuity. For example, the cave had a door - then it didn't - then it did again. This sounds a rather petty thing for me to mention in my review, but a lack of continuity and not listening to what other performers have said is a one-way road to bad improvisation. The whole stage was used throughout which was good, but at points performers blocked others. There were times the actors struggled to find their way off-stage as well. This at first was well recovered with 'I can't find my way out of the cave!' but when it occurred again and again, it just made the show look messy.

In terms of the tech in the show, the blurb tells us that we will see ‘high quality lighting effects’. Yet the only lighting used were blackouts. It was a small venue so I didn’t expect anything huge, but with this in the blurb a bit more variation of lighting was expected.

As a young adult, I did not enjoy the show. Yet to say that it was awful and not to go would be unfair. Young families in the audience obviously really enjoyed it, and with the easy to comprehend story-line and friendly atmosphere I can see why. You should also take into account that because the show is an improvisation and thus changes every time, you cannot take the review of this show to be the literal account of what happens in the next. Even so, the bad acting, problems with listening and lack of continuity left me disappointed and reluctant to recommend this to anything more than a family audience.


Chelsey Stuyt

at 19:35 on 6th Aug 2012



In the cellar-like theatre of Paradise in the Vault, ShellShock!'s “Once Upon A Time” attempted to sweep us off into the sunset. Unfortunately, the lack of energy and improvisational skill left the audience far from achieving their happily ever after.

'ShellShock!' grows out of the well-regarded Durham university improv society and it is a shame that they don't quite live up to it. While the concept of the show is strong, the lack of confidence and skill of the performers leaves the audience feeling awkward and unimpressed. The format has the compère (a calm yet capable William Garnier) ask for two suggestions, a fairytale (in this show 'Beauty and the Beast') and a time period ('The Stone Age'). From there, the troupe play a series of short-form games to set the scene before committing themselves to a full 25 minute improvised play. This combination of short and long form styles has the potential to work quite well. However, the combination of games chosen and the concerning amount of blocking made it impossible for the show to get off the ground.

The short form section began with the game DIE. This game should not be used to kick off a show. It is not an energizer and it requires an audience that is already warmed up. A good improv show should start with a bang, build up the energy through something short and snappy with a lot of physical movement and then moves on to a show-off game like DIE (meant to exploit the performer's speed of wit more than their humour, but which is fairly low energy and is visually unengaging). However, even if we ignore the poor choice of opening game, the performers skills were not up to the task at hand. They didn't seem to understand the concept behind the game. DIE requires the performers to finish one another's sentences without hesitation – sometimes even finishing one another's words. 'ShellShock!' not only hesitated – sometimes for several excruciating seconds – but even repeated the previous performer's words. The troupe appeared underprepared and lost at best.

Moving on to the long form, it was riddled with blocking (in one scene a performer actually said “there 's no door, this is a cave!” directly after the two performers had mimed and spoken about a door). Long periods of repetition, bridging, and silences only added to the audience's discomfort. Midway through the show they threw in a hail mary gambit by introducing the always popular short-form game “Change”, but the performers didn't seem to understand the basic structure of the game (normal, opposite, crazy) nor the requirement that it be fast, fast, fast.

A show with great potential but which requires more time for the performers to develop their skills.


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