Going to see the Oxford Imps at the Wheatsheaf, we didn’t really know what to expect. Their reputation precedes them; often cited as Oxford’s first improvisational comedy troupe, they have been performing since 2004, with their shows (based entirely on suggestions shouted out by the audience) constantly greeted with rave reviews.
The Imps were full of energy, dancing around the stage and switching between spontaneous sketches, storytelling and songs, culminating with an improvised musical, all of which were bizarre and experimental, but brilliantly funny. They proved themselves to be incredibly versatile as actors, switching between playing Father Christmas, Kim Kardashian’s lovechild and the hero of a chick lit novel in a matter of moments – and somehow, it worked.
Ed Scrivens, an Imp from Christ Church, told us how he got involved: “I’d heard about the Imps from my friend at Edinburgh University, who’d seen them at the Fringe and assured me of their awesomeness. Therefore, when I was stalking around re-freshers fair and saw the stand, I signed up straight away. I have had previous experience on stage though; back home I was in a youth company called the Musical Theatre Academy, and I was involved in numerous plays at school and college.”
He told us that being an Imp brings with it a lot of perks. “I’d say that the worst thing I’ve experienced were the nerves before my first show, but our spiffingly lovely Wheatsheaf audience soothed those pretty quickly. It’s generally massive amounts of fun, and it’s great when you have a room full of people laughing and creating comedy with you – it really is a shared experience. It’s also awesome to be part of a group who get on so well, and as a result our rehearsals (for want of a better word, they’re more like practices) are as much a bunch of mates having a laugh as they are preparation for a show.
“Being an Imp also brings some great opportunities which I wouldn’t have otherwise been afforded, such as touring America and performing at the Fringe for the whole of August (which was pretty knackering, but amazing). The ball gigs aren’t too shabby either.”
But how do the Imps cope with the unpredictable nature of live improvised comedy? Ed explains: “It’s the nature of improv that every now and then something won’t go to plan, mainly because there is no plan. The way I cope with it is by just powering on. Being part of a troupe like this means that you’re on stage with a bunch of quick and creative people who know you and how you work, and on whom you can trust.
“After all, improv is a group venture, not an exercise in divadom. And if something really doesn’t work, at least everything we do is new every time, so it’ll never happen again!” There really is nowhere to hide in front of a live audience, but what was especially striking was how well the Imps worked together, stepping in to help each other out during the scenes, always in a playful and comedic manner. It’s clear that there is great chemistry between the members of the group, and that it wouldn’t work nearly as well without it.
So, if you want to see what all the fuss is about, there’s no shortage of opportunities to see the Imps. As well as their weekly Wheatsheaf gigs at 8pm every Monday of term, from Tuesday to Saturday of 6th Week they’ll be putting on a long-form show called ‘The Play’s the Thing – An Improvised Shakespeare’ at The Burton Taylor Studio, which as the title suggests is an hour long improvised Shakespeare play based entirely on what the audience shouts out at them (shows 9.30-10.30pm, tickets £6, or £5 student discount).
Ed also told us: “We’re also putting on an Oscars themed show at the Pegasus Theatre on Friday of 6th (8pm, tickets £7/£6), will be taking a jaunt round Holland during the vac, and you may well find us Imping around a ball or two. Saucesome.”