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    Interview: The Oxford Imps

    The Oxford Imps have been performing hilarious and spontaneous comedy at the Wheatsheaf for over ten years, making frequent forays to the Edinburgh Fringe where they receive universally rave reviews. To maintain an improvised comedy troupe for such a long period of time, an occasional influx of new members is of course extremely important, and Cherwell were lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet this year’s nine new Imps, ahead of their debut performance at the Wheatsheaf at 7.20pm on Monday 1st December.

    There are always a lot of current and former Oxford students in the Imps, and so it’s easy to make the mistake of assuming they’re affiliated to the University. They’re not – as I discover to my embarrassment when I ask my interviewees what year they’re in, only to be informed by new Imp Dawn Parsonage-Kent, that she’s in her thirties and has, like, a proper job. The others are from a mixture of years, subjects and backgrounds, with Chesca Forristal, a first year at Wadham and the youngest of the Imps, performing alongside post-grads Kevin Pinkoski, Adam Mastroianni and Lydia Allegranza France, who were all involved in improv at their previous universities in Canada, the USA, and, erm, Brighton.

    Getting into the Imps is no mean feat. One hundred and ten people auditioned this year, with the auditions taking three hours and the recalls another three on top of that. Although undoubtedly intense, the audition process is also reportedly a lot of fun, and Harry Houseman tells me he unsuccessfully auditioned last year, but decided to give it another go this year purely because the experience was so enjoyable. It seems the journey into performing was a natural one for Harry, as he’s a long-time fan of watching comedy, having been to see his first show when he was nine, and going to over three hundred shows since. By contrast, Chesca has never done comedy before.

    “My friends always tell me I’m not funny,” she laughs, but after she was inspired by seeing the current Imps perform at Wadham in Freshers’ Week decided to have a go herself. She credits her success as an Imp to “foot-in-mouth disease,” her suffering of which she believes to be illustrated by her audition, one part of which concluded with her slithering onstage in character as a sea cucumber, before declaring “Eat me if you dare.”

    Whilst a tendency towards the surreal and the unexpected is certainly a key aspect of Imphood, the Imps also rehearse key skills to help them in their performances, such as punning and working with new pianists, Josh James and Sam Davies Una, to practice making comic musical masterpieces extempore. Although, Kevin tells me, rehearsals are key in getting to know the way the Imps work and in getting to know the other newbies better, it’s clear from what the Imps tell me about their process that there are no tricks – they really are that good.

    When I ask what the Imps have been doing to prepare for their first show, Oliver Mills explains that the nine new Imps have been attending the weekly performances at the Wheatsheaf and staying behind for notes afterwards, so they can see the more experienced Imps in action. Other less obvious methods of preparation include rapping whilst cycling, belting out rock ballads, and, in the case of pianist Josh, only finding out the “Big Debut” was a thing at a previous interview, and then wondering whether to be concerned or not.

    The Imps’ shows are a brilliant mixture of natural comedic talent and games that are carefully designed to showcase and focus this innate gift for humour. If my brief chat with the nine newbs is anything to go by, these Imps seem well-prepared to continue the legacy of the troupe’s shows as one of the funniest nights you could hope to have, not just in Oxford, but pretty much anywhere.

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