As the late great Shakespeare once said “I love the Oxford Imps, they’re amazing” at the time this was dismissed as the mad ravings of a true genius, later historians could not make sense of his nonsensical phrases, but that was no different from usual, Willy loved making up words. But only now can we see what a true visionary he was.
Because 11 years ago in the fires of mount doom (Oxford), Hannah Madsen forged an improv group, and into that group she poured her wit, her charm, and her passion, they were called The Oxford Imps. Since then they have toured France, The USA, Holland and Bosnia and they have become a regular fixture at the Edinburgh Festival. And somehow, through some sort of clerical error, last term I found myself becoming one of them.
I went along to this year’s auditions mainly just for fun, I had auditioned the year before and the selection of games and scenes you do are unbelievably enjoyable, I had no chance of getting in I told myself, I was there just for the craic. I even had to leave halfway through the final round of auditions to go and flyer an audience coming out of seeing comedian Tim Key at the Old Fire Station, then frantically cycle back to the auditions at Wadham. I spent my last two summers flyering shows at the Edinburgh Festival working for Pleasance, the biggest comedy venue at Edinburgh. It was there that I was first introduced to the Oxford imps, whose reknown in Edinburgh is rather impressive, their big pink imp (I swear that isn’t a euphemism) is a highly recognizable symbol to all flyerers. Imps and their alumni are very dominant at the Fringe taking many shows to Edinburgh, even just at the venue I worked were: Chris Turner, Racing Minds, Joseph Morpurgo, Rachel Parris, Austentatious an Improvised Musical, Ivo Graham, Morgan & West, and Robin & Partridge.
I can remember seeing the current imps on the streets of Edinburgh, I was walking past the potterow port underpass (http://goo.gl/wK8kLw) and they were standing in a rap circle like the bad ass mothers they are (as far as I’m aware none of them are actually mothers). I knew who they were and they had no idea who I was, Tanner with his beautifully bleached blonde hair (Achievement unlocked - alliteration) and all of them looking like they were having the time of their life. I never thought for a second that a month later I would be one of them. In fact I was so surprised when I received my acceptance email at 2 o’clock in the morning I burst into hysterical laughter, the fools, they had accepted me!
The first rehearsal was terrifying. Instead of being in a room full of people who have barely improvised like the auditions, you’re in a room filled with experts, filled with people who have performed improv across the globe. Not only are they all amazing at improv and being funny but they’re all really nice, I mean seriously nice, there’s not a single rotten apple in the bunch – is that even possible? Like seriously, statistically how is that even possible? We had to walk into a room with these hilarious and lovely human beings, and then we had to be funny. It was terrifying, and intimidating, and daunting. But it was so fun. I went home that night having kissed an Oxford philosophy professor. I can honestly say that’s the first time I have ever kissed a male philosophy professor. Probably.
But it wasn’t the brief embrace of stubble from the prof that had me addicted to improv, It was the spontaneity, anything can happen and anything will happen. I’ve acted on stage before, I’ve done sketch comedy, I’ve done some stand up, but none of them are comparable to the chaos of improv. You walk onto stage as a blank slate, the stage is bare and as is your head. Within moments you can change nationality, gender, age, species, location. Once an audience member has suggested a word or a phrase you are plunged into a different world, a different person, a different universe, sure comedians can improvise and do audience interaction but not in the same way. It’s the most fun I’ve had on stage performing with the imps, because you’re a team, you can make each other laugh, should you choose you can screw them over, and you can make your scene partner look brilliant.
Not only are they great improvisers and great people, but I’d consider the imps good friends, thanks to their help last term as a team we managed to raise £1,328 for Movember helping causes fighting prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health issues, their brilliance knows no bounds. Becoming part of the imps isn’t like becoming a part of a company or a comedy group it’s more like becoming part of a family (Albeit a family mostly consisting of mad aunt and uncle types - the best kind of family). After a brilliant 8 weeks of rehearsals with Director Thomas and co-director Sophie teaching us the moves, the tricks and tips myself and my fellow nubes Oliver, Lydia, Dawn, Adam, Francesca, Kevin, Sam and Josh were unleashed onto the Wheatsheaf stage to wreak impish havoc on a weekly basis.
In Michaelmas 2014 I have found myself kissing Oxford professors (Just the one I swear), raising over a thousand pounds for charity, and having my right leg hair completely removed, and all in the name of the Oxford Imps. I’ve loved every minute I’ve been a part of them, and I’ve loved getting to know my brilliant fellow nubes and old imps alike, it has been an amazing journey, and it has only just begun! So, If you want to see something truly spontaneous, to witness performers take an idea or a word of your choosing and forge comedy instantly in front of your eyes, then go and see improv. I have seen a man laugh so hard at the Oxford Imps that he accidentally head butted the table he was sitting at. Legit.
I can’t say what will happen in every show, I’m not a soothsayer, despite what those goats’ entrails told me. But why not come down to the Wheatsheaf one Monday evening during term time, and you’ll see the Oxford Imps, the very best improvised comedy this side of a non-geographical location.
Harry Househam, Generation 15