An ‘opening night review’ is a little misleading in the case of the Oxford Imps, who have been around for the last fifteen years and whose improvised comedy is by its very nature unique to the moment. Nevertheless, they have started the term with a bang, bringing a varied selection of interactive scenes and songs to the stage which had audience members doubling up with laughter.
The evening is divided into two halves comprised of different bits of short-form improvisation and separated by an interval. There are varied opportunities for audience participation, whether that be by simply clapping or chanting, suggesting prompts for improvisation, or actually coming up on stage. A clear effort is made to allow each audience member to get as involved as they wish, even asking at one point for a prompt in the form of “that one thing you’ve been waiting to shout all evening”. The rotating cast deliver rapid-fire scenes, which generate delightfully randomised improvisation that can escalate quickly from “let me put my shoes on” to “let me cover my face in the blood of the fallen” as each game’s different rules help guide improvisation and generate wacky scenarios based on audience suggestions.
Regular rotation of performers, short scenes, and a deliberate incorporation of different genres for comedic effect means that audience members get to experience a wide range of styles throughout the evening, truly receiving the most ‘bang for their buck’, as the Imps themselves repeatedly state. The quick turnaround of scenes keeps the evening broadly very fast paced – but this was lacking in the final act, which takes the form of an improvised musical. Significantly longer than any of the others, this part of the performance was at times laborious and elicited less frequent laughter, although rotation of Imps was maintained to keep up interest, and the slower build-up did enable some rewarding punch lines and plot twists.
Nevertheless, the overall tone of the evening is one of overwhelming energy – transitions reminiscent of those in Queer Eye, in which the Imps dance onstage to the accompaniment of lights and music, separate each scene, and at times the Imps can hardly contain their own amusement. Whilst references to politics are purposefully avoided, the jokes were often very topical, for example rhyming “you’ll get better” with “Thunberg, Greta” and poking fun at popular trends and even Oxford degrees. Rowan stood out in particular, showing great variety in the characters they played, and coming up with excellent lines such as “I’m both a ghoul and a nutritionist!” as well as demonstrating impressive technical skill.
Most importantly, however, the Imps worked exceedingly well as a team and were particularly strong in their response to slip-ups, incorporating these into the rules of their games and fully embracing the hilarity of failed rhymes or botched accents so as to make these a source of entertainment rather than awkwardness. Overall it was a hugely enjoyable night, and I would encourage anyone with a free Monday afternoon to come along to the Wheatsheaf and see how they can influence the development of that night’s performance!