Shellshock!

18/08/19

The Greenhouse (Pleasance Pop-Up), Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh

Written and directed by Louis Catliff, Shellshock! is a funny, endearing musical, with a serious message but a playful tone. Shelly (Alex Duckworth) is a hopeful young ecology graduate, recruited as an intern for GLG, an oil company with a spillage problem. She thinks she’s there to help them reform, but they’re only interested in greenwashing their image. So far, so predictable. But when ruthless CEO Venetia Von Van Clief (Phoebe Angeni), German mentor Jeremy (Daniel Heidlandn), secret agent Darryl (Molly Williams), animal rights activist Glen (Elliot Douglas) and a Galápagos ‘turtle’ (Catliff) are added to the mix, it’s pretty clear this is going to be a quirky ride.

Zero-waste venue, The Greenhouse, is an ideal space for this play by BoxedIn Theatre. We queue outside in glorious sunshine but, just as we’re entering the little wooden hut, a light rain begins to fall. Before long, as we’re watching the performance, there’s a downpour, the drops bouncing off the clear perspex roof, our eyes drawn to the grey sky above. As the characters sing about covering up the damaging effects of their industry, we’re acutely aware of our environment. Ten minutes later, we’re reaching for our sunglasses as the clouds break and the light pours in. There’s no hiding from the world in here.

The music, written and performed by Joseph Baker on guitar, is charming: a little bit folksy, a little bit blues, even a little bit hip-hop at one point. It suits the story and its Louisiana setting. The singing is also uniformly strong, although a special mention must be given to Angeni and her super-impressive vocal chops. The ‘turtle’ is very funny too, effectively conveyed by Catliff donning a green T-shirt and adopting a tense crouch.

I like the story: it meanders a little, but is always engaging, the dubious nature of the characters’ motivations exposed through sharp humour. It takes me a while to understand the dramatic purpose of Glen, the inept animal rights activist, but I come to realise that he’s a means of critiquing dogma – that he and Venetia Von Van Clief are united by their zealotry, and their inability to see a picture bigger than their own obsessions.

This is a lovely little play in a fascinating (and much-needed) venue.

(For more details about The Greenhouse, check out our other blog here: https://thezerowastrels.home.blog/2019/08/17/the-greenhouse-a-zero-waste-fringe-venue/)

4 stars

Susan Singfield

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