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February 1, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

The Shambles


Published 21/4/10 at www.artshub.com.au

What better opening line is there than the simple fact that this show features a giant paper mache vagina? Yes folks, The Shambles is crass to high heaven, but you’re going to giggle. Sometimes too much.

Apparently, being gay is quite useful if it means gay jokes are no longer taboo. The number of jokes you can make at your own expense are endless, and all taken in jest. The boys from The Shambles are clearly comfortable with each other, or else they wouldn’t do skits involving frantic dry-humping, exaggerated pants-stuffing, or playing tiggy in teletubby outfits.  

Costume changes are par for the course in this show, so brief video skits allow breathing time; montages include Portia de Rossi and Ellen (constantly dancing) as well as a tear-jerking appeal to save the ‘kids who are ugly in Year 9’ and an opening sequence stolen from The Lion King with the Shambles trio in catsuits leaping about in what looks like scrubland near Geelong.

It may be a workable theory that the cheaper it is, the funnier it gets—and apart from the papier mache masterpiece, the show uses well-worn outfits and precious else to pull off skit after skit of random madness. Half the time their props seem to have become props because stuffing around with them created a skit in its own right, as the ‘Breaking up with Optimus Prime’ sequence demonstrates.

Then there’s the chaotic skit involving a five-second show case of all the characters deemed too crap to make it onto the Shambles’ show. It involved a gullible crowd member allegedly admitting to a dodgy sexual history, and it comes of well because it utilises that self-deprecating humour for which Australians are so well-known.

Even the improv had its moments of brilliance—seeing skinny runt Valvo determined to squeeze into a shopping trolley child seat, and then take another five minutes to extricate himself with the help of his two mates and a stage hand made me laugh so hard my sides began to ache.

There’s the scene involving the overly-enthusiastic flamenco dancers and a hidden surprise, the customary (and authentic) c-bomb entrusted to a suspicious audience member, a clear lack of respect for anyone and a welcome commitment to squeezing every last moment of humour from a moment. While the show took a little while to warm up, it hit its stride and sailed towards the end in comfortable style.

The Shambles are young, shameless and seem willing to try anything. While having a gay cast member means they can milk the gay jokes for all they’re worth, other subjects get royal comedy treatment; even Judith Lucy cops her fair share in a spot-on mimicry.

The Shambles haven’t got their show down pat yet, but they’re quick learners. And since they’ve just reached their fiftieth live performance, it’s only a matter of time before they get a backlog big enough to have a show that is as consistently good as their best skits – including the scene showcasing all the apparent comedy failures!

The Shambles @ The Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Season now closed.

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