The Showstoppers must have incredibly tough pre-show nerves. There’s trepidation enough for any performer waiting to go out onstage to a new crowd, but at least usually there’s the comfort of running through the lines in their head. There’s no such luxury here, as every single moment is entirely spontaneous.
The improvisation here is led entirely by the audience, who are introduced to the concept by the host, who then takes suggestions for settings, musical styles and titles from the crowd. It was incredibly entertaining enough just admiring the stand-up wit of Dylan Emery as he banters with the bizarre suggestions given, before the musical had even begun. He (or whoever fulfils this role in the performance you see) then interrupts the improvising at random moments to keep the story going and throw curve-balls at the performers to deal with.
The comedy is, simply, masterful. These are true experts at their craft, with characters that could have entire sitcoms built around them being created in no longer a time than it takes for the actors to walk on stage after hearing what they’ve been asked to do. Over the two performances seen for the press day, such varied situations were created which could not have been further from one another. In one, an evil dictator fairy-king enslaved a northern-Irish pixie, and the other a complicated love-triangle in the Daily Mail offices titled ‘The Lying King’ (make your own assumptions). There’s no single formula which they simply apply to whatever the theme is – no cheats, no pre-prepared material, everything is entirely made up on the spot. And it’s marvellous for it. You get some moments of banter, off-the-cuff inspiration and heckles that would never otherwise be taken advantage of in other shows.
You may be wondering how the ‘musical’ aspect of this show works. The stage features a three-piece band live on-stage, who at their own will start to underscore the acting to eventually lead into a song. It must not be underrated the talent this exudes. The musicians are given, at times, mere seconds to create a ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’ style track, or a ‘Stomp!’ dance number, and even a rendition of something from ‘Mamma Mia’, and are able to adapt not only with each other but also what direction the actors are taking the song.
Having seen two different performances, you get the advantage of seeing just how wide-spread these actors can perform and sing. The technique they use to drive the musical numbers is that one will take the lead, come up with a line, which the others can then return to and repeat over and over as the chorus, during which a dormant actor is mentally preparing the next verse. It’s extremely effective, and such that you won’t notice this is happening unless you watch several performances. I was also very surprised that, whilst there were lots of clichés used as you would expect, lots of the improvisation during the songs was incredibly complex lyrically. At one point, a beat poem/rap about confronting a demanding lover (throwing in Shakespeare puns – why not) was so incredibly witty that it would surely have taken a lyricist many weeks to write any better.
Unlike most improvisation, there was actually cohesion to proceedings. You get a complete plot, as the host ensures things don’t stray too far. The intelligence of the actors meant that running gags were established over the short 90 minute show, which are completely unique to that night. They even managed to remember tunes they’d made up earlier to have the odd reprise. This isn’t just a few people messing around – you’re getting an actual musical that no-one has seen before or will see again. Special mention must go to Ruth Bratt, whose impromptu jokes and references to earlier events were consistently the most laugh-out-loud over both performances.
By all means enjoy the interactive nature of the show. You’re asked at many points throughout to shout suggestions as to how the plot should progress, and even get the opportunity to tweet the company in the interval as to how things in the second half should progress. It’s not decided until moments before though – none of this is prepared during the interval. All the more impressive.
Rating this is difficult – by the very nature of the show, you’ll be watching something entirely different to what any reviewer sees. The fact that the second show was even greater than the first shows the consistency does vary – but had I only seen the first, I would not have felt there had been anything missing. This is an extremely unique concept and you will be missing one of London’s most innovative concepts in a long time if you don’t book before it closes in November.
Review by By Ash Benzaiten
Showstopper! The Improvised Musical
A brand new musical is created from scratch at every single performance of this multi award – winning show. Each night, audience suggestions are instantly transformed into an all-singing, all-dancing production with unpredictable and hilarious results! With seven years as an Edinburgh Fringe must – see phenomenon, four sell-out West End seasons and an acclaimed BBC Radio 4 series to their name, The Showstoppers have delighted audiences across the globe with their ingenious blend of comedy, musical theatre and spontaneity. Whether you fancy Sondheim on a ski lift, or Cole Porter in Poundland – you suggest it and The Showstoppers will sing it!
Showstopper! The Improvised Musical
Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Age Restrictions: Ages 12+
Show Opened: 24th Sep 2015
Booking Until: 29th Nov 2015
Important Information: Includes one 20 minute interval
Thursday 1st October 2015