The Oxford Imps make triumphant return to the Bullingdon

Improvisational comedy troupe the Oxford Imps played a knockout first show of term at the Bullingdon on Monday 24th April. 

The Oxford Imps have performed regularly since 2004 and their lineup is made up of both local residents and university students. Past members of the troupe include comedians Sophie Duker, Ivo Graham, and Rachel Parris. Their show incorporates a mix of comedic conceits including singing, storytelling, and impressions.

The show, which was split into two halves each performed by different groups of ‘imps’, consisted of a set of games that, when infused with random audience suggestions, provided an easy vehicle for comedy. The formats were easy enough to understand and their simplicity enabled the Imps to inject their best humour into their performances. For instance, a game in which four Imps shifted around the stage in a square performing four different scenes simultaneously was a highlight of the night. The commitment of the actors to their performances allowed the audience to delight in the ridiculousness of what was happening before them, whether it was a classic depiction of a milkman joke or a rumination on the pitfalls of lad culture and female hysteria.

Although obviously the entire show was made up on the spot, some of the best moments came from an Imp’s split-second decision to cut in with a killer joke. This was accomplished most successfully when a scene between a priest and the God of the New Testament was interrupted by the Old Testament God played as a campy villain. Another joke that secured a lot of laughs was during a game where the imps had to play the world’s worst jury officer, and a quip about the now-infamous Rebekah Vardy case shut the scenario down before it had even started.

The show’s crowning glory was its big closing number, a church-inspired musical which involved every member of the group. The aforementioned portrayals of God, ridiculous New York accents, and the venerable institution St Hilda’s School for Naughty Naughty Girls all played a part in this ambitious piece of improv. Almost every scene included an accompanying song, displaying the troupe’s sheer talent for coming up with infectious rhymes and memorable choruses on the fly. The show ended with a triumphant air as the imps dashed off stage to raucous applause.

As somebody who had never seen improv before and had been somewhat wary of improv in general given the bad name that improv groups often get on social media, I was thoroughly impressed with what the Oxford Imps delivered on their first show of Trinity term. While not every joke was a killer, the fast-paced action ensured that the audience’s attention was never left to linger on material that didn’t work as well. The prompts and games themselves were well-configured so that even the ones that challenged the Imps the most, such as a guessing game where an imp had to guess what the audience suggested using other performers’ hints, felt natural. There was an ease to the comedy that demonstrated the experience and ingenuity of all the performers, and everybody had their own chance to shine in hosting games or having the spotlight on them in a scenario.

Since the show is always different, the jokes I’ve written about will likely never appear again. You can turn up at the next show and be presented with something completely different that retains the same breeze of humour that accompanied the Imps at the Bullingdon. The performers’ energy and drive to offer something entertaining that all audience members could find funny was the magic that brought their scenarios to life. I would definitely recommend seeing them live even if, like me, you haven’t had much experience of improv comedy.

The Oxford Imps will be performing a show every Monday of term at 8pm. For Weeks 2-7 (Monday 1st May to Monday 5th June) you can find them at the Jericho Tavern. They will return to the Bullingdon for their last show of term on Monday 12th June. You can purchase tickets to their shows here.

Image credit: The Oxford Imps.

Image description: A group of Oxford Imps performing in November 2022.