Oxfringe 2008

Oxford's new fringe festival, running alongside the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival. A veritable 9 days' feat of literary, theatrical, comedy, visual arts and music events.
Various venues across Oxford, Sat March 29th 2008 - Sun April 6th 2008

April 4, 2008
Oxford Impro: The ImProfessors
Burton Taylor Theatre, till Friday 4th April
Imagine a mix between Whose Line is it, Anyway? and I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue, and you might get some sense of what this very funny, creative, hour-long show is like. The audience commits their favourite books, degree topics, historical periods, most desired invention, and so on, and a gang of eight improvisers has to turn these ideas into a series of improvised sketches loosely themed around ‘expertise’. Thus we had Mary, an expert on pig-slaughtering through the application of port, Professor Smith’s thought box, bungee-jumping, a return from the Crusades and a chocolate expert and her translator from a fictional foreign country. Your experience will vary!

Oxford ImPro’s website spurns the comparison to Whose Line is it, Anyway?, but the similarities are clear enough: one performer stands behind another manipulating props on a table while the other improvises an explanation of his latest invention; the improvisers try to speak in pairs or en masse in a single voice; they are given silly scenarios and invited to entertain. The only discernable difference was the absence of any competitive element – no having to answer questions and thereby work out who you are, or what bizarre affliction you suffer from. If you like the show, you’ll love the ImProfessors.

The show is very funny, hilarious at times – but not everyone in the cast had the same grasp of what makes people laugh, how a joke works, how to pick up on partners’ cues and take them in an amusing direction. While a few of the performances positively sparkled, a couple were noticeably more leaden. This is surely because the show immediately begins as comedy, not drama: we expect it to be consistently funny, but it’s not. Those bits which aren’t are also not good drama, and I’m still none the wiser as to what improvised drama, rather than improvised comedy, would really look like. If there really is a distinction, it needs clarifying; if not, the cast needs to be consistently funny.

For the time being, however, The ImProfessors is an entertaining, energetic show with guaranteed originality every night. I look forward to seeing more from Oxford ImPro in the future.
More of a vignette than a play, Sweet 'n' Low is a peek into the life of two actresses who share a flat in Oxford.

It’s written by Nicola Kelleher, an actress who writes in her spare time and who also stars as Jane in the piece. The performance is full of most of the stereotypes associated with acting – a sleazy agent, awful ‘acting’ jobs like dressing up as a hotdog, rivalry and backstabbing amongst actresses, taking clothes off for roles, etc. The crux of the story is that Mimi sabotages Jane’s audition, but in the end Jane gets the job anyway and Mimi is empowered and fires her agent. It’s nothing new, but it was an enjoyable performance nonetheless, with a good few funny lines.

Sian Richards as backstabbing flatmate / rival actress Mimi is quite good, as was Kelleher as Jane. Jonathan Henwood plays the sleazy agent, and Kathryn Hegarty is the eccentric tarot card reader, both also well played. However these two characters seemed to have been written on a much more exaggerated comic scale than Jane or Mimi, which didn’t quite work.

Sweet 'n’ Low is part of the Oxfringe festival. It is a short (less than 25 minutes) and sweet performance, and I would guess will be particularly entertaining for those who have worked in film and TV.
If this evening’s launch party was anything to go by, there’ll be a great variety and huge lot of fun in the new, expanded Oxford Fringe this year. Starting in just a few weeks, this year’s Fringe will see a great deal more events and shows being held across the city from 29 March to 6 April. This year’s is a “taster fringe” which its organisers hope will grow and evolve over the years.

The launch party showcased acts who’ll be taking part. The night’s performers ranged from a vibrant street band to performance poetry and comedy improvisation. There was good energy to all performances, with some really interesting and quirky acts to look out for.

The evening started and ended with The Horns of Plenty - a street band formed at last year’s Cowley Road Carnival. Their infectiously upbeat mixture of funky reggae, Eastern Europe and South African music made them as much fun as the carnival itself. Their procession into the café was accompanied by a fire eater performing in the background, a touch which really added to the festival feel.

Performance poet George Chopping, a self-proclaimed shelf replenishment technician, performed funny and quick-fire verse about shopping and cats. His poetry was a great jumble of modern jargon and drollery, and made the audience laugh a great deal.

F x P2 were three very young comedians who performed slick, silly sketches which worked well, with natural timing and affability. Their showcase confirmed Oxfringe’s interest in supporting young performers. Oxford Impro performed improvised theatre sketches on the theme of academia which were a bit hit and miss, but done speedily, energetically and in good humour.

The final performer was Jenyth Worsley, a local poet who performed a great variety of material - from a poem from the perspective of a rat to a piece about Cassandra before the fall of Troy. Her work was humorous but also inquisitive, on occasion angry, and eloquent.

All in all the Oxfringe launch gave a great taste of what promises to be an exciting addition to Oxford’s cultural scene. The Fringe will run at the same time as Oxford’s Literary Festival, and hopefully will be the first of many new festivals to emerge at this time of year. The organisers’ enthusiasm and dedication, bringing an exciting number of events taking place across the city, is really something to be proud of.

The Oxfringe will run from 29 March to 6 April. A printed brochure will be distributed across the city soon, in the meantime a full programme of events is available at www.oxfringe.com.
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