“We even got the dinosaurs in there”
It’s perhaps a sign of the times that an element of variety has crept into theatreland. Where the West End is usually dominated by plays and musicals, we’ve seen the likes of Vegas-style revues like Sinatra and magic shows like Impossible extend its entertainment remit and now we can add improv shows to the list and not only that, improvised musicals. Created by Adam Meggido and Dylan Emery, The Showstoppers have been making up musicals on the spot for eight years now, regulars in Edinburgh and smaller venues like the King’s Head and the Charing Cross Theatre but they’ve now made the significant leap to the Apollo on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Their routine is a simple one – a brand new show at every performance (we were invited to the matinee and the evening show to prove just that) inspired by suggestions from the audience and embroidered into life by 6 performers (from a company of 12) who literally make it up there and then. The first of the day’s shows was Puck Off, a tale of love and wings in an Irish fairy grotto with a jive-talking Puck; the second was The Lyin’ King, set in the jungle that is the Daily Mail’s offices. But in some ways, the details don’t really matter as the show is remade every night from the variety of responses from the stalls and the unexpected swerves that come in their telling.
Similarly with the musical influences. Crowd-sourced suggestions included Wicked, Avenue Q, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Gilbert and Sullivan and there’s also moments where songs progress naturally out of the musical doodlings of the band – the superb and incredibly quick-to-respond MD Duncan Walsh Atkins with Craig Apps and Chris As. The constant invention is never less than very funny but it really comes into its own when the group manage to satirise musical theatre even whilst operating within its conventions – the utter randomness of Stomp and the overblown duetting of Les Mis both brilliantly skewered here.
I think it is important too to recognise just how much is going on on stage, how talented these performers really are. For they’re not just improvising the words and the stories but the music and harmonies as well, spinning all the plates of deliciously daft narratives and still managing to squeeze in reprises of the funnier moments from earlier on. The role of the narrator is crucial here, interjecting where necessary to keep things on track or milk key aspects for comic effect, Emery clearly having a ball, but multiple hats off to Justin Brett, Pippa Evans, Adam Meggido, Andrew Pugsley, Sarah-Louise Young and the downright hilarious Ruth Bratt (whatever you suggest, make sure she does an accent!) who make it look effortless. The West End is a richer place for having The Showstoppers in it.