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The Oxford Imps Game Show (Live) review: ‘If improv is risky, here you’re in safe hands’

Bad improv makes me nervous. Nervous that the performer will drop the ball, lose their train of thought, or say something outright unfunny. And the Imps (Oxford’s “premiere improvised comedy group”) certainly set the stakes high, incorporating a huge amount of variables and audience participation into their game show format, itself a tribute to the excitement of the bygone era of The Generation Game and Wheel of Fortune. Luckily, they delivered a hilarious and at times wacky show that kept the audience engaged throughout. 

The show featured a contest between two audience members chosen at random to win a ‘bag of favours’ to which each audience member had contributed at the door. Favours included everything from baking tips to mediocre sex, so there was a lot to play for. The two contestants (one of whom was my friend who was shattered from cycling 60 kilometres earlier in the day) were subjected to a range of comedic tasks, including pretending to be a bin, limboing under an invisible bar, and guessing the flavours of soups that had been mixed together. Too bad that the final challenge – a spin on the wheel of fortune – yielded the wrong result and so the bag of favours (surreally and inexplicably) had to be destroyed by a blender in the show’s closing action. 

The two hosts (Billy Morton and Fuaad Coovadia) manage to capture something of the loud, moustachioed, 70s television man – from asking contestants banal opening questions to making wry remarks on their progress through the show. The improvised, melodramatic disagreement between the two in the show’s ‘ad break’ was especially amusing and gave the show something of an underlying narrative. They were supported by Lili Herbert, who provides ironic musical backing (and cutting sarcastic asides), contributing contestants’ challenges of her own and improvising songs from a title of their choosing. Theo Breakspear’s lighting and sound invite the audience to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the game show studio in all its emphatic, overcooked glory. 

But the stars of the show are the Imps who represent each contestant in a serious of ridiculous ‘minigames’. Sol Woodroffe, Leonard Ho, Basakran Sripathmanathan, and Sali Adams try to outdo each other in their level of sheer ad-lib silliness and quick-thinking bravado. They variously create diss tracks of the contestants (some of which managed to actually rhyme), try to woo a retired civil servant picked from the audience, and also create pun-filled impromptu adverts for another audience member’s marketing business. There is so much that can go wrong – and they’re not always left with a lot to work with – and so the ability to consistently make people laugh on the spot is remarkable. The cast’s sense of professionalism – a fine line of managing the chaos and unpredictability – testifies to the high standards they keep. If improv is risky, here you’re in safe hands.

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