Viewers can expect plenty of laughs on Sunday nights with ITV's new panel show, The Imitation Game. Here, top mimics Debra Stephenson and Rory Bremner, and host Alexander Armstrong tell us more...
Debra Stephenson, Rory Bremner and Alexander Armstrong on the show that's destined to make a big impression…
It's hard to imagine Donald Trump, Adele and Russell Brand in the same room – but that's exactly what you can expect from ITV’s new Sunday night high-energy panel show, The Imitation Game.
Each week, the show – hosted by Alexander Armstrong – sees team captains and top impressionists Rory Bremner and Debra Stephenson each work alongside another to mimic in a series of fast-paced games and challenges.
Both teams go head-to-head as they re-enact iconic movie scenes, re-voice news footage, sing well-known songs as you’ve NEVER heard them before, and put unlikely words into the mouths of a whole host of famous faces.
TV Times caught up with Xander, 48, Rory, 57, and Debra, 46, to find out more…
How would you describe The Imitation Game?
Rory: "People enjoy impressions and they enjoy panel shows, so we’re putting those two things together. With impression shows, you either have the Who Do You Do? or Copycats-type format from the 70s, which now feels slightly dated. Or sketch shows, which both Debra and I have done, that are expensive and very intensive to make. This is a whole new format." Xander: "You’re slightly hobbled with the sketch format of impression shows because you’ve got this lovely impression – but you’ve then got to sit through a sketch that goes on forever! This show is just all about the voice and the face."
Rory's teammate for the first edition is Britain's Got Talent star Jess Robinson
This show involves many quick-fire rounds and one-word impressions. That’s a lot of impressions to get through…
Debra: "It is. Depending on whether we’re doing the very fast-paced one-word impressions, we can be doing anything from 25 to 45 impressions each in a single episode. There’s about 80 different voices per show between us all." Xander: "The good impressions keep coming back. There’s something magical about watching somebody assume a character and the one-word game can often involve making just a single noise. Like when Debra does Mary Berry or Davina; in one word or movement, she’s captured the essence of that person."
So, how much of this show is improvised – and how much do you have to rehearse?
Rory: "It’s a mixture of both. On the one hand, you know certain things are going to come up, so you make sure you’re prepared for it. But for the ‘dating’ round, Your Voice or Mine, for example, where myself or Debra have to guess the real celebrity among two impressionists, that's all completely out of the blue. It’s definitely the spontaneous bits that work best."
Do you all have favourite impressions that you do?
Debra: "My favourite of Rory’s are David Attenborough, Prince Charles and Jacob Rees-Mogg." Rory: "Debra does a brilliant Adele…" Debra: "Yeah, I do Adele singing the song from the Go Compare advert! I really enjoy the musical rounds." Rory: "There are also some impressions, which are such favourites, they’re off limits, too! Alistair McGowan is known for doing people like Richard Madeley and Frank Skinner, so I wouldn’t want to do those because Alistair IS the guv’nor at them." Debra: "I felt really awkward about doing Audrey Hepburn when Ronnie Ancona was on the show because that’s her forte. Luckily it was Audrey Hepburn AS Eliza Doolittle, so I felt I could do it completely different to the way Ronnie does it."
Debra sings the Go Compare advert... in the style of Adele!
So there’s no rivalry between the impressionists on the show?
Rory: "Not at all. We all just really enjoy other people being terrific at voices, so it’s a really generous show in that way." Xander: "Often on panel shows you’ve got all these stand-up comics trying to race to the gag. But there’s no ‘snapping at heels’ on this show." Debra: "What’s lovely is that all the different guests bring their own variety of voices; they’ve all got their own ‘brand’ of impressions. So we’ve got US star Christina Bianco with all her classy American, vocal impressions and people like Alistair, who does a lot of voices from sporting world."
Would you say this show provides a shop-window for up-and-coming impressionists?
Rory: "Yes, particularly in the first episode. Luke Kempner has got SO much talent. Christopher Biggins is the guest for the Your Voice or Mine round. I don't ever do Biggins but Luke is so good at it that I felt really uncomfortable. I think even Biggins was shocked by how good Luke was!"
Christopher Biggins joins in the laughs with Rory and guest mimic Luke Kempner
Xander, you do a few impressions on the show, too, don’t you?
Xander: "I almost forgot I could do various impressions and it was lovely doing Billie Holiday for the song we do at the end of the show. I then discovered I could do Errol Brown from Hot Chocolate, too. I expect this could be a gateway drug to all sorts of other things…"
The Imitation Game Sunday September 2 at 10.05pm on ITV.
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