Since it is the season of goodwill to all men, I’m not going to belabour the point that it is a shame that ‘musicals’ have been lumped together as a category here, whereas the likes of Pinter and Kane got their own specials, whither Sondheim, Herman and Tesori. Still, it’s lovely as ever to stretch back over years of musical theatre productions to see some of Tristram Kenton’s most iconic shots for the Guardian:
Photos: Tristram Kenton
So much fun to be had with the hilarious guys of Showstopper! The Improvised Musical at The Other Palace
“It’s time you felt my gay-rage”
I’ve been watching the Showstopper crew for as long as I’ve been blogging (the King’s Head was a great venue for them), so it’s a real treat to see them constantly move onwards and upwards, stepping up from their monthly West End residencies (which they’re still continuing) to a fully fledged 7 week run at The Other Palace, during which they’ll celebrate their 1,000th show.
For the uninitiated, Showstopper! The Improvised Musical is a show that is made up on the spot by a group of disgustingly talented comedians, taken from ideas given by the audience in terms of musical influences, plot twists and titles. It’s as simple as that and it is ingeniously done, night after night, to produce a brand new musical each time, which has never failed to leave me helpless with laughter. Continue reading “Review: Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, The Other Palace”
“You can’t let the pipes play you, you play the pipes”
After their residency at the Apollo, the Showstopper team have skipped along to the Lyric where they have been performing their brand of improvised musical on a random selection of Mondays, roughly every three weeks. If you’re new to their work, Showstopper is created anew on the night, suggestions garnered from the audience for the title and the various styles of musical theatre in which the songs will be improvised. And it is always extremely good fun and frequently hilarious, hence my multiple visits over the years.
This evening we saw Greece!, a tale of aspiring thespians, goats, mischievous demi-gods, mysterious rambling women and some impressive pipes, set at the base of Mount Olympus and other assorted ancient Greek venues. And musically we went from Gilbert and Sullivan to West Side Story to Andrew Lloyd Webber, though the highlights were the Hamilton-style love duet (big up to Andrew Pugsley and Pippa Evans) and a truly lovely Waitress-inspired number which although ostensibly a comic number about Dionysus, possessed a strikingly powerful musicality (led by the divine Ruth Bratt). The perfect way to liven up a Monday evening.
Running time: 90 minutes (with interval)
Future performances: Monday 15 May 7.30pm; Monday 5 June 7.30pm
“What’s it gonna be Paul, what’s it gonna be?”
The beauty of improvised musical show The Showstoppers is that you can go as many times as you want as they make it up fresh for every performance. So even though I saw two performances on their press day last week, I was more than happy to go again this Sunday evening, this time to experience the delights of Jim’s Soggy Bottom.
A tale of love and Russian politics in the Bake-Off tent with numbers in the style of The Boy From Oz, Sweeney Todd, Urinetown and Jesus Christ Superstar among others, it was highly entertaining as always. Ruth Bratt continues to be a hoot but Pippa Evans has been in a real rich vein of form recently to nab MVP for me. Worth a trip if you’ve not been yet and worth a revisit if you have!
“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. Continue reading “Review: Showstopper, Apollo”
“Ooh look at my spices”
A first trip back in ages to Showstopper and instant regret that I’d left it this long. I think perhaps I saw them too many times too close together so I took them for granted but regardless, their brief engagement on the South Bank ahead of an Edinburgh run enabled me to rectify this. The Showstopper company are an improv group who specialise in making up musicals on the spot, taking audience suggestions for titles, musical theatre styles and random plot points and somehow weaving them together into comedy gold.
Tonight’s show was GunWharf Souk, set in 1945 the long-established Little Morocco area of Portsmouth, where sailors on shore leave find their heart captured by the locals even though their warship is waiting to take them back to the Pacific. As with much comedy, you kinda need to be there to hear how funny it is and I can assure you that it is quite simply hilarious to watch these talented performers (Ruth Bratt is a comedy genius, Pippa Evans also brilliant too) improvise so randomly and expertly from love songs to Lloyd-Webber, Sondheim to (Gilbert &) Sullivan.
Rubbish sees Martin Freeman and James Lance reprise characters from an earlier short film Call Register, best mates Kevin and Julian. Once again tussling over a girl, in this case Anna Friel’s new neighbour Isobel, this time the scenario is around recycling in the flats where they live. Ed Roe’s film neatly punctures the hypocrisy that many of us carry about green issues, the lip service we pay and in this example, how that can rebound on us. Lance carries on his laidback swagger and Freeman is brilliant once again as the constantly over-compensating Kevin, aware he’s about to lose another girl to his handsome friend.
Elephant Palm Tree
Another film from Kara Miller and another two-hander that this time charts the quietly painful collapse of a marriage. No external factors are involved, it’s just a woman realising that the relationship to which she has devoted her life is giving her nothing back and asking for a divorce. But his (unspecified) high-flying job has kept her a very plush way of life and as they do battle over what she would walk away with, it becomes clear that whereas she’s ready to leave her man, her resolve may not be strong enough to divorce herself from this lifestyle. George Harris redeems himself a little for Frankenstein and Doña Croll is subtly affecting as the torn Martha, the difficulties of her life and decisions etched upon her face.
A rather fascinating project in which the medium of short film is stretched to encompass the world of video games, all on the most meagre of budgets. It’s an experiment for sure, but worth a look.
I Am Bob
Donald Rice’s I am Bob is a rather amusing if slightly overlong film that plays like a homespun take on Being John Malkovich but with Bob Geldof at the heart of it. A mix-up with his chauffeur on a toilet break during a long ride up to a gig in Glasgow leaves him stranded in an isolated Lancashire pub without cash, cards or mobile. But far from being abandoned, it is hosting the 14th Long Marston Lookalike Convention and so he gets swept up in the baffling world of celebrity impersonations where David Bamber has already entered as Bob Geldof and the two have to do battle to be the most convincing Bob. It’s silly but fun and even if it stretches a little too languorously, it is always good-natured.
“I’ve seen all sorts of things in pub theatres…”
Tonight saw a very special version of Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, currently playing Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays at Islington’s King’s Head Theatre, as it featured none other than fairy godfathers and inspiration to theatre bloggers across the nation, the West End Whingers as special guests. As a critics show, it took a slightly different format: whereas normally the audience are encouraged to shout out scenarios, musical styles and plot developments at the beginning and a show is improvised from there by the ensemble, here our invitees had been asked to write a review of a play from their imagination that does not currently exist and so that was the show that was then developed put on by the team, who were blissfully unaware of what was coming their way.
The show was Dametastick!! a tale of two theatrical divas, narcoleptic Andromeda Dench and Philomena Smith with a wooden leg, old drama school chums from the Rah-Dah estranged after marrying the same man, though at different times but now both in the twilight of their careers auditioning for the same part in The Grapes of Froth, a production being put on a pub theatre with pretensions of becoming an opera house and directed by the man who had been married to them both. Highly silly, highly amusing and enlivened even further by the requirements of the plot, including a tap routine whilst eating cream crackers, a grape-treading number that involved yodelling and a coup de théâtre at the finale which was so amazing it couldn’t even be mentioned until the very moment it came to pass. At least those were the things I could remember, the Whingers really packed a lot into their allotted 80 minutes! Continue reading “Review: Showstopper! with the West End Whingers, Kings Head Theatre”
Showstopper! the improvised musical is a highly entertaining show which promises a brand new musical every night, improvised on the spot by its company. The premise is simple: a theatre producer has just 70 minutes to produce a musical on the spot and invites the audience to make suggestions for the theme of the show, its title and a number of musical styles to be incoporated into the show.
On this night at the Leicester Square Theatre, we were treated to T-Rexctasy, a tale of love and dinosaurs, featuring songs in Disney, Sondheim and country and western styles amongst others. It was extremely silly, and lots of fun, and you soon realise that the story, such at it is, really isn’t that important and the joy of this is in watching the performers interact and bounce off each other in entertaining and often hilarious ways. Lucy Trodd was the star of this particular show, but Ruth Bratt and Adam Meggido as a double act and Pippa Evans made a very funny group of villagers and all of the performers were on fine form. NB: If you do go, do make lots of suggestions as it makes it more fun, and they thrive off responding to the curveballs people throw at them, plus you only get to make suggestions at the beginning. Continue reading “Review: Showstopper! The Improvised Musical”