The Oxford Imps

The Oxford Imps

The Oxford Imps. Image courtesy of the Gilded Balloon Press Office

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 4 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the Oxford Times

The Oxford Imps are more peppy by far than anyone has any right to be first thing in the afternoon at the Fringe, where venues routinely programme work well into the small hours of the morning. The success of their show — now a staple of the Festival — depends on it: improvised comedy relies on the contributions and collective goodwill of the audience. This year’s troupe have, therefore, made it their mission to perform so energetically that it motivates not only themselves, but an entire packed auditorium as well.

As always, the whole troupe disco dances with abandon between games. The games themselves are consistently cut short by compère Tom just as they peak, meaning that some skits end before they’ve given all they have to give, but ensuring that onstage energy maintains a relentless high.

Though he carries out this particular duty with a practised sense for pace and comic timing, Tom’s personal brand of enthusiasm quickly begins to grate. As if endeavouring to outdo every one of his colleagues in rousing the audience, he strides restlessly back and forth while introducing each game, jigs distractingly at the side of the stage while each game proceeds, and has a tendency to shout rather than project. Overall, his manner is manic rather than simply excitable, and exhausting rather than energising.

This year’s selection of improvisation games tends heavily towards the musical. The Imps treat us to an improvised charity single based on an issue that slightly irritates the audience, a Motown-style ballad based around names shouted out by the audience, and the pièce de resistance, a 15-minute improvised musical.

Improvising in rhyme, to music, is a proven crowd-pleaser and, due to its challenging nature, something of a hallmark of prowess in improv comedy; but the Imps have little left to prove in that area, and a more balanced programme would be a better showcase of the ensemble’s talents.

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