Review: The Oxford Imps

This article first appeared on The Oxford Student website on 10 November 2015.

They say that comedy is all about the timing. In which case the decision that the Imps should perform their weekly show on a Monday night is a canny one indeed; early enough in the week that the audience isn’t completely exhausted, but far enough into academic hell that everyone appreciates a bit of a laugh. But to put the success of Monday night’s show down to good scheduling alone is terribly unfair; the fact is, this is a monstrously talented group of performers, perfectly in tune with one another, and this hour and a half of clever wordplay and quick-witted absurdity would probably go down a treat no matter when it was performed.

The shows consists of two halves, with a ten minute interval separating them. The comedy itself consists of essentially a series of sketches based on audience suggestions, which get more elaborate and ridiculous as the show goes on, and transitioning into long-form material for the second half. (Last week’s performance concluded with a rather excellent improvised steam-punk musical, with some surprisingly good singing.)

One of the things which makes the show work so well is the imps’ seamless rapport with one another. They each have a knack for escalating their fellow performers’ ideas; if one funny idea emerges, someone will find a way to make it even more ridiculous; if someone tells us that a pirate is flying a ship through the sky, said pirate will then tell us that it’s because he’s banned from the sea, and so has invented flying technology a few decades too early just to make a point.

But if the troupe play well with each other, they do even better with the audience. Willing to run with most suggestions, no matter how insane or stupid, they also show willingness to push their audience, asking for suggestions beyond the most obvious; the show feels like a collaboration between the performers and the viewers, and the results are effortlessly hilarious.

It’s not a show without its rough edges. The team are clearly much more adept at wordplay than physical comedy, and a few moments of slapstick don’t quite come off. There’s a slight bagginess to the whole affair, which might be improved by a shorter running time, and a few of the games become so pedantic and restrictive that they get in the way of the laughs. But even then, the imps demonstrate the self-awareness to abandon jokes that aren’t working, and the show’s flaws add to the nervy atmosphere of the whole thing. This is a show that makes you feel anything could happen.

In the end, the Oxford Imps put on a damn fine show. Witty, exciting and self-aware without being smug, this is everything a student comedy show should be. The Oxford Imps are a hugely talented set of performers, and this show comes recommended as a tonic to the fifth week blues.

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