Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Showstopper! – the improvised musical
Venue: George Sq 4, 10:50pm - Midnight.
The Showstoppers return to the Fringe with their fantastic long-form musical improv show. With a new hit musical to be produced every night from the audience’s suggestions, this is one act that’s hard to beat – and certainly not to be missed!
I used to think I didn’t like anything that came under the heading ‘improvised’. Then I realised that I only thought that because I had never seen good improv – and Showstopper! is improv at it’s unquantifiably magnificent best. The group have collated something of a cult following, and it’s hardly surprising. With a new work of unadulterated genius every night, take it from someone who knows, you’re going to want to go again and again to see these fearless masters at work.
Dylan Emery stands strongly at the helm of a brilliant and original long-from musical improv format. He plays the writer/director of each night’s new offering, taking a collection of suggestions from the audience for the setting and title of the show, as well as for Musical Theatre composers (from Sondheim to Willy Russell, Jason Robert Brown to Maltby & Shire); Popular music artists (past suggestions include the diversity of David Bowie and Vanilla Ice); and Theatre styles (try a Shakespeare/Chekov mix or Kabuki homage for size). The result? An utterly unpredictable hour long show in which entertainment flows from the stage.
With all of this going on you could be forgiven for thinking that Showstopper! would just be a silly romp through a world of pastiche and panto – and don’t get me wrong, that sometimes does happen true to side-splittingly funny form, it is a comedy show after all (audiences in the first week of this year’s Edinburgh run were treated to a rousing round of ‘Nothing is better than a sleeping girl!’ devised by Ruth Bratt in a moment of comedic gold to tie seamlessly in to the plot line of a narcoleptic torture chamber assistant, living forlornly in her late Father’s shadow whilst fending of the unwanted seductions of a newcomer to the town as she secretly remains in love with a fellow torturer) but scenes to rival any serious West End drama can also spring of this musical mayhem.
In fact some of the most ludicrous suggestions often blossom into surprisingly heartrending creations. Take for example the premier (and of course, final) night of ‘Sandals in the Wind’, a turbulent tale of Gladiator love featuring music inspired by Elton John and Jule Styne. When our protagonist, a gladiator given the task of slaughtering the entire empire as a birthday gift for the evil Empress, suddenly came face to face with the love of his life who hadn’t managed to flee the city in time, a (somewhat tipsy) member of the audience yelled out ‘Kill her!’. There were gasps as we horrified on-lookers held our collective breath awaiting the decision. It was then that Sean McCann, an improv hero, lifted his sword with great gravitas and silently slaughtered the only woman that his character had ever loved. Ridiculous? Well, perhaps so on paper, but it ended up being a scene played with the utmost dignity to exceptionally moving effect.
The reason for such brilliance is due to the spectacular cast, each a master of their craft. Each is a successful actor, comedian, or musical theatre performer in their own right, and all are as pleasingly diverse and versatile as their audience’s suggestions. Pippa Evans and Ruth Bratt both bring exceptionally sparkling comic talent; Lucy Trodd and Oliver Senton play with an admirable integrity, whilst additionally adding to the hilarity; and Adam Meggido, co-founder of the Showstoppers, seems to have an innate god-like talent for drawing everything together and referencing the various genres provided by the cheering spectators. All this, and I haven’t even mentioned the excellent vocal talent embodied by the whole company yet!
Indeed on the subject of music, the live band deserve great praise. Duncan Walsh-Atkins and Chris Ash effortlessly capture the audience’s demands, and if you happen to be a musical theatre fan you can feel immensely self-satisfied when you recognise your favourite countermelodies or patterns reworked before your very ears. Credit too should be given to the improvising techies transporting the audience seamlessly from desert farmland (with highlighted ostriches) to scene awash with moonlight and fitting solemnity.
With such talent on board then, it’s my great pleasure to add another five star review to their vast collection. A night with Showstopper! is a night of your life thoroughly well spent. Bravo!
(After this Edinburgh you can catch the Showstoppers at their resident venue in London on Monday nights at The King’s Head Theatre in Islington, and also their late night West-End performances on the last Thursday of every month at the Leicester Square Theatre.)