The Play’s The Thing, the new Oxford Imps show at the Burton Taylor this week, is an attempt at a fresh take on that stalwart of the student stage, Shakespeare. A slacker English professor at ‘Camford University’ declares that he has discovered a new Shakespeare play, only to be faced with the problem of producing it. After demanding some names, imagery, and ambitions from the audience, we were presented with ‘Patrick and Miranda’ – a play about the eponymous siblings and their family’s rivalry with the dreaded Tangerines.
The Shakespeare parody is well-trodden turf, but the Imps do well to introduce their own running themes – earlobes played a large role in the laughs on the night I attended. Indeed, Shakespeare’s structures are played pretty straight, though there’s excellent work around language – an audience member suggested ‘flowers’ and so we were treated to lines like “I feel like a daisy by the side of the road which has been covered by a dog turd.”
The biggest problem is the conflicting styles of the troupe. Tom Skelton and Dylan Townley are both energetic, dominating the stage and best when paired together; they have a tendency to overwhelm other performers, particularly Skelton – he’s a bit of a scene stealer. Daniel Roberts seems the greatest wit, delivering lines that had the audience in stitches without dropping out of character, a masterstroke that made him the highlight of the show. Sylvia Bishop showed a remarkable talent for improvised rhyme, which was used to great effect. Unfortunately, Vicky Hawley proved a weak point as Patrick, her perpetually plaintive expression proving pitiable. She tended to deliver her soliloquies with the demeanour of a bad student actor, rather than a parody of one, and while I’m sure she had a gift from improvisation, it sounded like recitation, robbing the scenes of energy and the tension endemic to improv.
The Play’s The Thing is an enjoyable show with some key drawbacks – the audience participation is limited to five questions at the beginning spread amongst three people, for example. However, there are enough laughs on offer to ensure a good evening. The troupe tend to be at their best when correcting their own mistakes – confusion over whether someone was a duke or a king raised some of the biggest early laughs – and their enthusiasm is infectious, and enough to carry the show.
*** (3 Stars)
PHOTO/ The Oxford Imps