Housed inside the Fringe’s first ever zero waste venue, Shellshock! kicks off with a rousing musical number about the apparent impossibility of finding a job suited to your degree when it seems that every Tom, Dick and Harold have their own equivalent qualifications. Once our heroine Shelley (Alex Duckworth) lands a job at fossil fuel mining firm GLG, the focus shifts to what seems to be more fitting ground, given the setting: fighting for environmental justice in a world driven primarily by financial gain. Just as we think we know where the story is headed, however, BoxedIn Theatre throw in enough plot twists to keep our heads spinning and enough catchy ditties to keep our toes tapping.
The musical numbers are undoubtedly the strongest element of this snappy satire on the state of the modern world. With original, insightful lyricism and upbeat melodies on the sole acoustic guitar, the songs are clever and quick-paced, keeping the action ticking over with their rhymes and quips. The performers are also to be commended; composer Joseph Baker is flawless on strings, while all of the six-strong cast boast strong vocal ranges. Special mention must go to both Phoebe Angeni in the role of arch-villainess Venetia Von Van Clef and Molly Williams as her right-hand woman Darryl, as the sheer force of their voices is worth the price of entry alone. Unfortunately, their accomplishment does threaten to overshadow Duckworth in the central role at times, but for the most part the cast work seamlessly well together.
Where the show sags somewhat is in its narrative. While the introduction of fantastical elements and plot developments (such as a bizarre plan to rebrand the company using a 250-year-old reptile or the off-the-wall and over-the-top animal rights activist hell-bent on exploding something) may increase the unpredictability factor, they also stretch plausibility past its limits and lean into slapstick territory. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does feel as though the pudding has been a little over-egged with some elements as the play unfolds. Madcap and confusing can be highly compelling when pulled off competently, but here both are detrimental to enjoyment rather than conducive.
Having said that, Shellshock! is still highly impressive in its originality and energy and constitutes part of a commendable project by BoxedIn Theatre, who have brought nine shows to the Fringe this year, all of which centre on environmental themes. Given the venue in which they are housed and the thematic content of their material, not to mention the polished performances which deliver it, this innovative young company are leading by example in a world crying out for more of their ilk.