The Oxford Imps’ exuberant improvisational sketches light up an intimate stage at the back of the Wheatsheaf Pub every Monday night with a blend of musical theatre, genre satire, and competitive storytelling; all sparked by audience suggestion. The ease with which they brought life to a stage twenty times the size for their Tenth Anniversary Spectacular at the New Theatre is patent proof of the energy of the talented troupe.
The show, which interspersed the Imps’ traditional improvisation with choreographed stand up from five ex-members, opened to a slightly forced ‘one-line-each’ story, ‘The Wombles go to the Supermarket’. However, the night quickly took off with an excellent sketch fully exploiting the power of dramatic irony as an all-American president deduced what was threatening the USA (‘brown kettles’) through a witty barrage of cryptic clues fielded by the Imps. Despite only having seen the Imps once before it soon became evident they riff around a collection of stock formulas – ‘the charity single’; ‘the two headed Imp’, and so on. Although this familiarity has appeal, much like a T.V. sketch show, the Imps are easily proficient enough to experiment with some radically different scenarios.
Whilst ad-lib and stand-up might superficially seem of the same ilk, throwing them in immediate relief highlights their differences. Much of the fascination of watching comics wing it on stage is in awe of their skill, rather than the slick intelligence of their humour. Even virtuoso performances – the remarkable Sylvia Bishop’s rap about a cauliflower – worked to keep up next to polished routines from the ex-Imps. Nonetheless the ‘how-do-they-do-it’ charm of the Imps’ effortlessly on the ball quips kept their performance engaging – and if the ex-Imps are a vision of their future, the troupe only has good things in store.
The first special guest, Ivo Graham, played on a comic stereotype firmly established by the likes of David Mitchell or Simon Amstell – incredibly posh, painfully un-cool, and endlessly self deprecating. Although conventional the act was superbly executed, taking us from Ivo’s early glory days as House Catering Rep and the infamous ‘Mangetout Non Merci’ campaign, through to foiling his one chance at teenage sex by replying to, ‘You can anything you want’ with, ‘Do you have any Walkers Sensations?’
The second – and my personal favourite – guest stars were Robin and Partridge, whose absurdist blend of ridiculous puns and off beat satire was admirably innovative. In their ironic role as Justice Patrol, ‘firing word bullets’ of truth, they had a surreal stab at Richard Dawkins – ‘It’s not that you’re wearing shoes in the mosque, Richard. It’s that you’re wearing only shoes’.
Morgan and West’s parody of a traditional magic act was clever and engaging, and Joseph Morpurgo peaked with a wonderfully weird dramatic monologue delivered by the bitterly forgotten snake of old Nokia phone fame. Rachel Parris brought the show to an exhilarating end with a spoof X-Factor finalist’s single, ‘I’m Amazing’. All in all the night was a laudably diverse comic extravaganza, proving the Oxford Imps are a force to be reckoned with.