Tagged comedy


Review: Wingman


Fresh from the Fringe, Wingman calls itself a ‘new father-son comedy’. It’s a moving piece detailing complicated family dynamics and the potential for forgiveness: the awkward son (Richard Marsh) finds that his mother has passed away, only to be left with his estranged father (Jerome Wright) who hopes to use the funeral and general aftermath to reconcile their friendship. His advances are unsubtle and initially unwanted but when unexpected fatherhood presents itself their relationship takes some unexpected turns.

The narrative is in spoken word, a form of delivery that adapts to the change in plot in a way that is moving; clearly the writers are in command of their material. It adds a satisfying rhythm to the story that is recounted and renders the show more original. A smart use of props combined with flawless acting ensures that the execution of the script is slick.

This piece is enjoyable but it came up against the difficulty of basing comedy on a more sober subject matter: the people around me did chuckle but left looking a little misty eyed too. Whilst I like that comedy can have some more serious weight to it, this piece blurs genres in a way that isn’t necessarily satisfying. Is it comedy if I left feeling sad?

Nevertheless this is a wittily written piece even if some of the jokes hit a little too close to home. The characters find themselves in numerous laughable situations and use comedy to hide greater feelings with a touching effect. As a comedy the show misses the mark but as a short drama it is an uplifting and thought-provoking piece.

Wingman is touring until the 20th October   http://richmarsh.wordpress.com/gigs-list/

PHOTO/Richard Marsh


Big Brass, big laughs


The cast of Big Brass initially makes a big joke about being amateur. The set of their Pilch studio show vaguely resembles a collection of washing lines; their entrance is a farce based around technical incompetence; a couple of sketches become parodies of their own form. Clearly the trio (clad in mismatched stripy t-shirts) were more than prepared to make fun of themselves. Luckily, with a wealth of experience between them, it’s pretty clear that we were in competent hands. The show is fast paced, unconventional, cutting and very funny.

At the heart of this is the quality of the writing. The sketches are varied, encompassing slapstick, spoof, dark humour and cringe-worthy sequences that had members of the audience hiding behind their hands. The show is also well arranged, getting the most out of the time spent on stage. The shorter scenarios at the start evolve effortlessly into longer sketches and as a result the show never felt repetitive; I was constantly wondering what the next scene would involve.

This unpredictability is one of the troupe’s key strengths, and they are at their best when it is found within individual sketches. Barney Iley, Nick Davies and David Meredith delight in undermining your expectations. Just when you think you know where it’s all heading, there will be a twist; the punch line won’t be what you expected. The most original sketches verged on genius, making it impossible to look away. It’s inevitably a problem with a sketch show, but a couple of the cruder sketches felt a little unexciting by comparison, perhaps even slightly lazy.

However, there’s enough material that makes the most of the performers’ talents. Iley and Davies worked well, especially when performing within a group, but of the three, Meredith stood out, adapting himself well to the wide range of situations encountered in the show. Showing off his combined comic and musical talents, there were times when he didn’t even need to speak to have the audience in fits of laughter: his facial expression and timing were more than enough.

So, overall it was entertaining, and at best hilarious. The talented performers of Big Brass are certainly worth a look. The type of humour may not be to everybody’s taste, but at the least it will make you smile and, if the reaction of the audience was anything to go by, might have you guffawing by the end.

PHOTO/ Will Truefitt


The Impish humour stays forever young

The Imps 10th Anniversary

The New Theatre

13 February


I talked to one of the newest IMPs, Francessca Evans, a 1st year at St Anne’s College the day before the show.

What IMP-spired you to join?

I’d done improvisation at school and at weekends, but it was largely unstructured and unfocused. I saw the stand at Freshers’ Fair and thought “Go for it!” The audition was really enjoyable, just a lot of games, although it really pushed me out of comfort zone. Auditions are a bit of a filtering process – you can’t be afraid of making a fool out of yourself. We’re all weird people. But that’s half the charm of it.

Are you all IMP-clusive?

We’re really mixed, with engineers, linguists, biochemists… it’s Oxford wide, so the producer for example is from Oxford Brookes.

How IMP-tense is your schedule?

I trained all of last term. I went to all the shows at Wheatsheaf and now I perform every Monday there. The show has been very busy – lots of flyering, leafleting and postering… and then there’s rehearsing…

What made this show so IMP-ressive?

There’s a much bigger audience – 1800 people. Also we’re bringing back some old imps, and they’re quite well known now. Usually it’s 5 of us, but there’s going to be 10 – 12. The basic format is still the same. It’s just the size has been increased.

For the first time why will this show be the perfect IMP-roduction? 

Because it’s going to be bonkers! It’ll be the best introduction to the Imps as you get to see us past and present. We take audience suggestions, so even if you’re a regular, it’s never the same show twice.

My interview with Frankie made me excited for the show. But would it live up to her promises?

The simple answer is that it exceeded them: it was fantastic and hilarious. The Imps make a really cohesive team, and it was clear they love what they do. Their performance was lively and engaging, with high energy. Even from several rows back, the sense of camaraderie between them was evident.

There was absolutely something for everyone: a mix of everything from slapstick to shaggy dog (or should that be ‘shaggy Womble’?) stories, and from rapping to mock Shakespearean soliloquies. The show managed to avoid many of the falls of TV live comedy with its variety and consistent quality – there was, as Frankie  said, never a dull moment.

Equally great were their guest stars. A real range of talents was shown, from mind-boggling brilliant tricks of Morgen & West to superb singing from Rachel Parris. For me, the personal highlight was the puntastic performance of Robin & Partridge. It was really refreshing to experience humour relying on linguistic talent, timing and movement, rather than smut and swearing.

The 10th anniversary show clearly demonstrated that the Imps fully deserve their status as some of Oxford’s comedic elite, and if the guest stars were anything to go by, then the current members are destined for great things IMP-deed.


PHOTO/ John Cairns


The Oxford Imps have their cake and you eat it

Smiles pinned on their faces and chocolate cupcakes raised aloft, the circle of twentysomethings in matching shirts posed for photo after photo in front of the Clarendon Building. These are the Oxford Imps—Oxford’s best-known improvisational comedy troupe, who, on February 13th will celebrate their 10th anniversary with a special alumni performance at the New Theatre. That venue represents an unusual departure for the Imps, who have held court at the Wheatsheaf every in-term Monday evening since Hilary 2004—480 sets in all (not that anyone’s counting).

According to founder Hannah Madsen, you have to rewind through about 479 of those performances to get to the first moment she realized the Imps might have some serious staying power. “The very first show, we had 60 people come, which is basically filling the Wheatsheaf. That really surprised us. And then the next show, we had a hundred.”

By the end of the year, they had been invited to perform in the fledgling Providence Improv Fest in Rhode Island, USA, and have returned multiple times over the years. On this side of the Atlantic, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival has become an annual summer destination, with a weeklong festival in Utrecht ranking as another popular destination. According to Dylan Townley, a past director of the Imps, the audience in Utrecht arrives armed with props suitable for the occasion. If you’re consistently dull you’ll find yourself pelted with sponges; on the other hand say something funny, recalls Dylan, and “ then all of these lovely Dutch people are chucking roses at you.”

The unexpected is the heart and soul of the Imps, with their repertoire varying on a nightly basis. Since their inception, they’ve tackled everything from themed raps to skits about Scottish pandas to full-fledged, hour-long musicals—all made up on the spot. Of course, one can’t just become proficient at churning out instant Andrew Lloyd Webber overnight. A new generation of Imps is recruited each year and “they get trained up for a whole term before going on stage,” says Townley; only once Hilary term begins are the newest members “allowed to strut their stuff.”

So, what does a good Imp look like? “Definitely a team player,” says Madsen without missing a beat. “It’s not always the funniest people to audition that get in. It’s about supporting each other, it’s much more like a team sport  than people realize. We make each other funny. I know that’s a really cheesy thing to say, but getting up there it’s 80% confidence and 20% skill.”

Overall, 138 Imps have made it through the auditions and the weeks of rehearsals and onto the Wheatsheaf stage—a fact the troupe celebrated by baking exactly 138 cupcakes to give away to strangers. And while a few were deterred by the notion of accepting sweets from strangers, the gang soon attracted a sizeable crowd. As more and more people walked up, the posing stopped and the talking began. Once again, the Imps were back in their element—improvising.

The Oxford Imps’ 10th Anniversary show will take place on February 13th,  8:00 p.m at the New Theatre. Tickets are available at the New Theatre box office, the Wheatsheaf on Monday evenings, and current Imps for £10 each, or from the New Theatre Website.

PHOTO/The Oxford Imps

debate photo

“This House believes that nothing worth knowing can be taught”

On Thursday the 30th of January, the Union’s normally serious proceedings took a back seat to the Oxford RAG Comedy Debate, contesting the motion that “This House believes nothing worth knowing can Be Taught”.

This was a true battle of comedic wit, with the Cambridge Footlights pitching up in proposition against the Oxford Revue home team providing the opposition. Shortly before the debate began there was an emergency motion entitled, “This House Would Rather Give than Receive”. This led to various individuals testing just how many innuendos they could use in a brief speech.

The Cambridge Footlights then took to the floor, with their opening speaker making a valiant attempt to encourage audience participation. After several failed efforts to get those assembled to ask “Is there nothing worth knowing that can be taught?” with exactly the right intonation, he moved on to an enjoyable but rather confusing vignette about his alcoholic uncle.

Following continued battles of wit between the Oxbridge comedy giants, there was then break in the debate as some of Oxford’s up and coming stand-up comedians took the floor. Anna Dominey, in one of the most selfless contributions to women’s health ever seen, lobbed a handful of tampons into the audience as part of the act. Alex Farrow also did his part for the feminist cause by playing a hugely informative game entitled “Robin Thicke or Rapist”.

After this we came to the closing speeches. The last speaker for the Footlights pointed out that, if nothing worth knowing can be taught, that means that one would have come to the debate already knowing their opinions in advance, making one a “bad person”. The final speech was unexpectedly interrupted by a series of improvised comedy games by the Oxford Imps, and then a closing set by Oxford’s own Out of the Blue. All-female a capella group “In The Pink” also performed on the evening.  In the end, the Oxford Revue claimed victory in the debate, with a 2-1 victory margin against the Footlights. However, the real winner was Oxford RAG. The debate raised £300, more than any debate has earned over the past years.



Three cheers for comedy: Huzzah Comedy Night at the Jericho Tavern

Huz·zah (hə-zä′) interj: Used to express used to approval or delight

Despite this being its fifth installment in Oxford, I knew very little about the Huzzah Comedy Night that had me Jericho-bound on Tuesday evening. To my approval and delight, what was on offer that night was a wonderfully bizarre mix of performances that all varied (as any amateur night invariably will) in their confidence, subject matter and delivery. There was an element of amateurism that pervaded the entire night much to the enjoyment and benefit of all who attended; gags sometimes missed the mark but the audience was receptive and involved to an extent that any tension from such lines was quickly dispersed.

I arrived at the Jericho Tavern on Walton Street before the show and was warmly welcomed by Russ Mulligan and Anna Dominey, who run the night together. Mulligan, wishing to provide another outlet for comedy in Oxford, got started last year but at first struggled to gain the attention of the University’s students until he met and recruited third-year Worcester student Dominey. Both performers themselves, it was easy to see their enthusiasm for comedy and eagerness to bring together comics from Oxford, as well as more seasoned names from around the country. As the acts began arriving, we were joined by headliner Elf Lyons, happy to regale us with anecdotes about the dangers of performing completely naked and dodgy corner shop whiskey. One suspects the two may have been linked…

Lyons’ set was equally amusing, and she combined intimate autobiographical accounts with relentless energy to great effect. Other notable acts were Harry Househam, the St. Hugh’s first-year who despite the fact that this was only his 10th show and his constant reminders that he was underprepared for this set, seemed very much at home on stage, and Mulligan himself, whose Harry-Hillesque appearance was at odds with his patient, often dark delivery.

At only £2 entry-fee, this night is well worth the time and extortionately-priced drinks. One thing is for certain when deciding what to do on a Tuesday night – you are much more likely to hear someone exclaiming “huzzah!” at Huzzah than “wahoo!” at Wahoo.


PHOTO/ David Hallam-Jones


The Oxford Student

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