The Oxford Imps

Wed 31st July – Mon 26th August 2013


Amber Segal

at 00:35 on 5th Aug 2013



Amidst raucous laughter, in a completely sold out theatre, I sat through the Oxford Imps feeling like I was on another planet to those around me. Although apparently uproariously popular, the company’s improvisation seemed to me without the slickness of style and speed that good comedy requires.

Running onto the stage to slightly modified pop songs, the gang began with a few seconds of cringe-inducing jumping and dancing which they repeated gleefully between each scene. Some of the sketches had a lot of potential, but continually I felt like I was waiting for a laugh that never came. The storytelling game that opened the show worked quite well with a few comically surreal lines but the alternate word sketch descended rapidly into gibberish. Again, this was enjoyed by the audience but to me this seemed to show a lack of commitment to the sketch, not to mention a lack of imagination within constraints. Similarly the book section had the potential to be hilarious but the loss of meaning left it only mildly amusing. The final sketch went on for at least twice the amount of time it should, becoming repetitive and tedious. The variation in it, using made up subtitles for example, could have been brilliant but was not involved for long enough or to its full comic potential.

One element I did find genuinely enjoyable was the improvised singing. Making up lyrics and singing them in tune, to the rules of the blues, shows impressive and unusual skill. I wondered why this did not feature more in the show, especially as the accompanying keyboardist played perfectly throughout.

It did look like a lot fun to be on stage - there's nothing worse than a bored performer - however, the tendency to verge on laughter at their own jokes appeared messy. While the sheer energy of the performers infected the crowd, the whole show lacked finesse. Though in general I am a great fan of the silly and surreal, nothing about this felt original or sharp enough. On the other hand, it is the laughter that counts and despite it not coming from me this time, the rest of the audience provided plenty for the Imps.


Alex Wilson

at 10:09 on 6th Aug 2013



Cue a burst of cheesy music and the rapid release from back-stage of a horde of bouncing imps. This seems the only appropriate prelude to a review of those sell-out Fringe-veterans, The Oxford Imps – indeed, their reputation has become quite an edifice and seemingly insurmountable for the expectant audience. I have to say though, for me, they largely fulfilled their promise of hilarity.

They are back again in Edinburgh this year and inevitably up to their usual tricks, enthusing audiences with their own quirky speciality of improvised comedy. This is immense fun as the audience is invited to offer several words out of which the troupe of mischievous imps weaves comical scenarios. The interchanges from imp to imp are light and pacy, producing a really bubbly ambience. The wit of the individual imp is truly impressive, but where the show really sparkles is in this sense of camaraderie. There is something intrinsically very satisfying about watching the group collectively build on each other’s words, actions, inspirations to spin out a series of very funny scenes to the frankly bizarre suggestion of an Australian soap opera centring on the family saga of an undertaker in the aptly named ‘Undertaker Gardens’- complete with theme tune improvised on the spot.

The energy and charisma of the troupe is certainly infectious, though I did sometimes feel that particularly big characters in the group did dominate, which seemed a shame for those slightly less self-assertive imps. Nevertheless, in the final evaluation, the dazzling verbal inventiveness of the imps and their fantastic dexterity in the face of so many unpredictable situations mean this most recent offering of the Oxford Imps deserves to follow in the wake of their previous Fringe triumphs.


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