This article first appeared on The Oxford Student website on 12 February 2016.
The weirdness of the internet is fertile ground for comedy. That’s precisely what the Oxford Imps have delivered with their new show Hyperdrive; an improvised comedy show based on Facebook profiles and Google images rather than drunkenly shouted suggestions. The production team deserves credit for integrating the technology in such an easy, unforced way. It’s a gimmick, but it’s the right kind of gimmick, one that accentuates an existing dynamic rather than muscling in on already solid ground.
With the help of projectors, laptops and a smartphone or two, the Imps liven up the standard process of asking for suggestions by effectively crowdsourcing them from the entire audience. The show opens with the creation of a Tinder profile, with audience members selecting a profile picture via online polling software. It’s a cute idea, and there are a few chuckles to be had from the sheer novelty value, as well as the collective realisation that, oh yeah, we’re going for the panda as our profile picture, aren’t we? But last night’s show didn’t really hit its stride until the Imps themselves got involved (a good five minutes in) and some audience-suggested Google Image searches led to a happy couple explaining why there was a middle-aged woman in fetish gear amidst their honeymoon photos. The tech is used sparingly throughout, and it leads to some great moments, the highlight being the serenading of an audience-member’s girlfriend over FaceTime.
That said, there was a slight sense that the Imps were out of their element. The Simpkins Lee Theatre is significantly larger than their usual home at the Wheatsheaf, and the need to play up to that increased size occasionally hamstrung the group. A few scenes ended on damp squibs, and a couple of recurring gags felt a bit forced. The technology had a habit of breaking in distracting ways – the blue screen of death made a few appearances, drawing eyes away from the action on stage, and the single drone appearance was a very expensive-looking anticlimax.
But rough edges like this are the necessary result of experimentation, and the show’s core was rock-solid as ever. The Imps show a familiarity with the technology, which makes for much sharper comedy, and their skewering of internet culture is spot-on. As one character put it, “If you don’t tell them very loudly in caps lock, how are they going to learn?”
So for all its technical imperfections, I can recommend Hyperdrive. The Oxford Imps deliver an hour and a half of smart and surreal material, with all of their usual energy and style. While the tech itself could have done with a few more rounds of beta-testing, the Imps remain a highly disciplined, hugely talented troupe, and it takes more than a few glitches for them to stop being funny. While the technology occasionally falters in Hyperdrive, the performers never do.