Bursting with youthful exuberance, the Oxford Imps dance their way onto the stage and are introduced to us by Giles Gear, who is in charge of opening the evening’s proceedings. Gear briefly warms the audience up and explains how transitions between the scenes will take place, and in doing so, nervously reveals to us that his parents are in attendance this evening. Giles’ Dad will go on to prove to the audience that no matter how old you get – no matter if you’re an accomplished Jack FM producer by day, and Oxford Imp by night – your parents will never stop trying to embarrass you. Which is reassuring to see, as someone whose Dad once played ‘Bogies’ BY HIMSELF at my Y11 Parents’ Evening…
But I digress. Back to the Imps. Right at the beginning of the show, Vicky Hawley is thrust into the spotlight of a police cross-examination sketch, where she must figure out the crime she has committed from her co-performers’ (Alex Fox and Matt Pieri’s) punning ability alone. The crime in question is the dastardly deed of going to Park End with Stevie Wonder, which is decided by the audience whilst Vicky is offstage. Vicky soon figures out the location of the crime scene thanks to a smattering of of puns about cheese, and questionable Oxford geography, but Hawley remains blind to the identity of her co-offender for considerably longer. It certainly seems like a PUNishable offence when Vicky doesn’t guess ‘Stevie Wonder’ after Alex Fox’s desperate attempts to recall the seven wonders of the world. To help Vicky out, the other imps chime in with varyingly useful clues from the sideline, a cheat which is artfully incorporated into the sketch by the phone of the police academy ringing off the hook. Finally, though, Vicky guesses it correctly: a truly impressive – nay, ‘wonder’ful – moment for the audience.
Before I talk about another standout scene from the first half I must ask you all a question: What’s long and hard and has cum in it? Get your minds out of the gutter, dear readers, for of course I am talking about a cucumber. This was the object Giles Gear had to work with in another achingly funny scene from the first act. In this sketch Giles’ co-performer was only able to respond with snippets from a text sequence from Gear’s phone – the contact having been chosen by a morally upstanding audience member, who was unswayed by the £5 bribe offered to her by Giles’ father, sat a row in front. Faced with the prospect of having his textual relations revealed in front of his parents, Gear kept his cool as he pretended to be an angry customer complaining to a restaurant manager about the lack of cucumber in his salad. He remained impressively calm as his fellow imp teased the audience with snippets of Giles’ text conversation, including the juicy details of a friend’s rocky relationship and allusion to Giles having “the time of his life”. Wink wink, nudge nudge. His Mum and Dad looked on with bated breath, wondering what on earth they were going to learn about their ickle darling, but impassive, unfaltering, Gear remained as cool as the aforementioned cucumber throughout the scene.
Impassive, unfaltering, Gear remained as cool as the aforementioned cucumber throughout the scene.
After the break, a new bunch of imps took to the stage, and Archie Cornish launched the audience straight back into mirthdom with a fantastic story-telling sketch which tested the imps’ reaction times, accents and literacy skills. In ‘The Story of the Whimsical Sausage’ – a title conjured up by an audience member – one by one a new imp was eliminated, until there was a stand-off between Chesca Forristal and Ed Scrivens. With the stakes raised, Cornish took great delight in cranking up the difficulty switch, banning Chesca and Ed from using words that contained the letter ‘y’ or ‘g’. Forristal was furious upon the realization that the eponymous ‘sausage’ spelt its name with a ‘g’, and conceded the scene to Scrivens – but all the Imps displayed an impressive ability to think on their feet and own the mistakes they made.
Cornish, Scrivens and Forristal would continue to dominate the second act. Given the prompt word ‘garlic’ and the setting of an abandoned church, the chemistry and talent of this trio came to a head with the creation of an improvised musical, called Garlic. Never coming to a theatre near you, Garlic the musical is the heart-breaking tale of a priest-come-bishop (Forristal) who leaves his doting parish wife (Cornish) with her blog at home and abandons his dweebish son (Fox) at boarding school, all because of his love for the fabulously camp parishioner-come-Parisian, Jerome (Scrivens). All this is happening whilst a curiously Yorkshire Hunchback of Notre Dame (Dawn Parsonage-Kent) enacts an epic take-down of a vampire deacon, where her weapons of choice are some deadly rap bars and – you guessed it – a clove of garlic.
The Oxford Imps as a collective sing to a score that punches all Fifth Week Blues right in the face.
The Imps work tirelessly in this sketch, and indeed, across the performance as a whole, to tie all the loose ends and questionable (but nonetheless funny) elements together into an enjoyable whole; this not only illustrates the talent of this fantastically diverse bunch of people, but it also reveals a certain degree of humbleness, suggesting that despite their manifold commercial successes at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and indeed, here in Oxford, the Oxford Imps are not afraid to hold their hands up and admit when it’s all gone a bit tits up. Although there are a few moments where we are led off-piste, left stranded half-way up a mountain wondering whether we’re meant to be in France, Newcastle, Switzerland or Germany, it is easy for us, the audience, to be forgiving of any bum notes when the Oxford Imps as a collective sing to a score that punches all Fifth Week Blues right in the face.
One thing is for certain – you can’t get better value for your money than £3.50 tickets to see the Imps, who perform every Monday during term time at the Wheatsheaf pub at 8pm. Get tickets for their next show here.