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Cameras and carnations - Saturday 2 June
Published on Saturday, 02 June 2012

I’m going to just get this out of the way – I have no idea which day the Jubilee actually is. Though I am well aware that this is the “Jubilee Weekend” I have yet to divine which of the four days the event actually lands on. The internet probably knows, but I think I’d rather discover it empirically. I use the word ‘empirically’ here in the sense that it means just wandering around until I see a parade or something. Or a flotilla perhaps, although I’d have to wander nearer to water than I have been doing.

My first show of the day wasn’t until 5:20pm, so I headed to Christ Church meadows for a bit of an explore, and then strolled round the town. With so many picturesque sights, and a lot going on whatever time of year, the Fringe has a lot to compete with. In the haze of the Jubilee weekend you’d be forgiven for missing it altogether, but unlike the town, Oxfringe is only a few years old and growing fast.

Today I’m at The Old Fire Station – a newly refurbished arts centre that opened last October. Comprising a 150 seat theatre, studio, gallery, shop and café, this is another of the surprisingly well-equipped spaces that Oxford has to offer. This year the OFS’s Fringe programme is in the hands of Underground Venues, who have selected a mixture of homegrown Oxford acts and others from the rest of the UK Fringe scene. 

3 starsParty by Tom Basden

Oxford University Press’s dramatic society tackle Tom Basden’s Edinburgh hit, Party – the story of four students, and a guy they‘ve brought along because his dad owns a printing company, as they gather in a shed to form a new political movement.

Basden’s script skips along as the group tries to determine if they are for or against China, what terrorism is real and what is from a film, and the most divisive issue of all, what their party’s name should be.

The cast offer enthusiastic performances. Director Miriam Higgins wisely hasn’t tried to impose too much on this simple piece, instead focusing on delivering the jokes with pace and clarity.

The only real digression from this successful approach was the unnecessary miming of the shed door, which added a touch of confusion and could have been dispensed with without the audience losing any sense of place.

Although originally performed by comedians, Party makes for a highly enjoyable show with a cast of straightforward actors. Packed with comic moments and some fine satirical jibes, Party is well worth a watch.

Also at the OFS I saw Big Daddy Vs. Giant Haystacks, which Richard reviewed not so long ago.  In between shows I caught up with Underground Venues manager and Oxford alumnus Tom Crawshaw, who gives me his picks of the week. I subtly turn the conversation to my burning question from yesterday... what’s with all the carnations?

“They’re worn to exams,” he explains. “White to the first, red to the last, and the pink to all the rest – it’s just part of exam tradition, like sub fusc.”  “I know what that means,” I said, “it’s a very dark shade of grey – are you impressed that I know that?” To which he replied, “No, because I just told you a minute ago, before you started going on about carnations”.

4 starsLights! Camera! Improvise!

The Scat Pack’s fully improvised movie Lights! Camera! Improvise! sees the audience suggest genre, setting and title, and then lets the cast loose with the rest. It’s all under the watchful eye of host Oscar, who is free to pause and replay the action – as well as flick to DVD extras, show reels and even the writers’ room where it all began.

On this particular evening a disgruntled sci-fi fan, disappointed that the audience had chosen a different genre, saddled the cast with a Western set on Mars. Cue Venusian fish-bandits and a fight against a giant trout with deathly vomit. The cast’s accents were pitched a little closer to the southern states than your typical Western, but the fact the action kicked off at a Martian bus stop puts paid to any sort of dialect pedantry. 

Whilst no two nights can be exactly the same, once you’ve seen a few improv shows you’re bound to notice how the format rarely varies. Lights! Camera! Improvise! bucks the trend with the character of Oscar. Where other long-form improvisation also has a ‘director’ to shape the scenes and hold the piece together as a whole, Oscar is a typical movie buff. He pauses the action to inject comments, rewinding and replaying his favourite sections. With infectious enthusiasm, particularly for any detectable ‘blooper’ moments, he turns the weakest moments into the highlights of the show.

Improvised shows are gaining popularity, be they sketch comedy or full-length musicals, and they can no longer trade on novelty value alone. Whilst I can’t promise that Lights! Camera! Improvise! will create a movie masterpiece every night, their variation on the role of the director takes the inevitable guffs that happen in unscripted performance and uses them to craft the cast’s most creative successes. If you’ve seen improvised comedy and been underwhelmed, go and see these guys.

In my quest to further explore the city, I managed to get caught in a rainstorm and tagged along with a member of Exeter College MCR to take shelter in the college. Running through the weather, and the unsociable hour of the trip, added the flavour of covert operations to the visit – and it’s probably the stealthiest fun I’ve had in Oxford since convincing some freshers I was a second-year astrozoology student. 

Tomorrow I’m off to a Jubilee event, to hopefully see some excerpts of shows I won’t be able to get to, and maybe settle the question of what day the Jubilee actually is anyway.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Oxfringe 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.