The Oxford Imps open with a voice-over introducing them as ‘world famous wits of England’ and other slightly odd hyperboles. It's true that their name is linked to many successes, including Chris Turner, Joseph Morpurgo, and Rachel Parris. Unfortunately, however, this disembodied voice was not giving an accurate description of the show to come.
It was far from bad. And with improvised comedy, of course, it is particularly difficult to review the show which will be performed on future days.
The Imps practice short-form improv and in this show play a range of games which include songs, stories, and quickfire wordplay. On the show I saw, the troupe were by far most comfortable with the latter. One game where all performers lined up and had to make puns on topics shouted by the audience was silly and fun - they visibly relaxed into it, and produced some enjoyably tenuous gags. I'd have liked to have seen the Imps use their skills for quips in their other games: the stories and songs would have been greatly improved by a higher rate of these deliberate punchlines.
Their least successful moments were in playing what were essentially parlour games – like a ten minute skit where one performer had to guess the names of two celebrities through covert clues given by the others. The only way to make such a game entertaining to a paying audience is by making the hints funny in and of themselves, and by getting the right balance between taking too long or not long enough. This didn't happen today. The lack of laughs also had the rather unfortunate additional problem of making the performers frustrated at each other. When the audience's eyes drifted from the performers to the sides of the stage, you could see some wince at each other's flopping jokes, or avoid going up for the next game. More of the energy and friendliness evident in the dances between games would have been nice in the games themselves.
It was far from bad. And with improvised comedy, of course, it is particularly difficult to review the show which will be performed on future days. There were glimpses of joy and wit from every performer, but not enough to liven the sleepy room. Mention must go to Verity Babbs for her consistently competent compering, and a few of the best gags of the day in a Les Mis parody song. Special credit also to Vicky Hawley who stood out for her quick-wittedness, her willingness to truly throw herself into the games, and her puddles of character-related drool. The latter is probably not guaranteed every day, which is a shame.
For the most part however, these performers have none of the energetic mischief we would hope for from Imps.