Although kicking the bucket is usually no laughing matter, the Oxford Imps have managed to bring mirth to that most solemn of occasions: a funeral.
As soon as you enter the Simpkins Lee theatre, the scene is set as you are greeted at the door, assigned a relationship to the deceased ('One Night Stand' & 'Dogwalker' for myself and my companion) and escorted to your seat by funeral organisers and devastated mourners. Make sure to get there early so you can enjoy entirely appropriate hymns including the Jurassic Park theme performed by organist Margaret (the talented Joe Zacaroli).
The format of the show is pretty much the same as a usual improv show: the Imps take part in improvisational games with the aim of getting the biggest laugh from the audience but in this show the games are structured around the typical aspects of a funeral including readings of their favourite poems and anecdotes about the deceased. The fun began immediately with a tuneful hymn about that most heavenly of topics - cheese. Harry Househam then led the audience through reminiscences of the decease's personal details (name, occupation, hobbies etc) before the clueless vicar (sarcastic Dom O'Keefe) arrived to give the address to the knowing audience. The energy was fantastic with the cast howling with grief when the Rev failed to correctly describe dear Matt Pierri followed eventually by cheers from the audience once the somewhat bizarre details (wire repairer rather than electrician?!) were unearthed to the horror of the Rev: "Stop clapping, this is a funeral!"
More details of the deceased's life, kindly given by the audience at the start of the show, were uncovered through a moving tribute from the butcher/business partner (a deadpan Verity Babbs) with the help of an audience member, followed by the reading of Mr Pierrie's will. Short flashbacks made up most of the rest of the performance. This is where the performers have free rein to demonstrate their ability to think and perform on the spot. As with most improv, this game can be a little hit-and-miss but I'm delighted to say that the Imps successfully pulled off the majority of the scenes judging by the audience's consistent laughter. All of the cast were strong improvisers and deserve admiration for their skill to not only invent a scene but to make it enjoyable for the audience. In particular, Matt Pierri (performed skilfully by Matt Pierri…) and Bruce/Barry Scott (veteran Imp Harry Househam)'s watery fraternal love scene stood out as a highlight from this section of the show. Josie Peters displayed excellent comic timing throughout while Dawn Parsonage-Kent gave her all to her role as Matt's Siamese-twin/mother. The funniest moments came from performer's slip ups: who knew a whistle was essential in the playing of cricket?! These unintentional jokes were repeated throughout the rest of the flashbacks but did not become tiresome; all of the Imps instinctively knew when to deploy the joke for the most laughs. My only criticism was that it became a tad repetitive, not in terms of content but in structure. Another quick improv game might have split up the re-telling of the life of M.P. and given the audience a break from the slightly nervous anticipation experienced with the start of each new scene.
With a final hairpiece-themed hymn, we said our goodbyes to the dearly loved Matt Pierrie. You can rely on the Oxford Imps to put on a devilishly good, professional show with plenty of laughs for the audience. I'm sure that as the run continues, the gang will go from strength to strength until they take their last bow.