Re-review: Showstopper, Apollo

“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!

Review: Showstopper, Apollo

“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”

Review: Showstopper, Udderbelly

“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. 

DVD Review: Wimbledon

“Four million tennis players in the world, and I’m 119th. But what that really means is this – 118 guys out there are faster, stronger, better and younger.”

It seems most unlikely but I don’t think I’ve ever seen 2004 romcom Wimbledon or if I have, I’ve erased every trace of it from my mind. And as it is that time of year again in SW19, it seemed as good a time as any to load it up for a spot of viewing on a train journey this past weekend. Whilst it is no great shakes as a tennis film or really does much as a ‘com’, it has a sweet charm to it with no small thanks to a likeable Kirsten Dunst as a tennis brat of a heroine and the slightly odd decision to Hugh Grant-ify its leading man Paul Bettany, clearly the only option for a British romcom.

Bettany plays Peter Colt, a Henman-esque figure of a nearly-there British tennis number one whose recent poor form has seen him plummet in the rankings and consider retirement. A chance meeting with upcoming US player Lizzie Bradbury puts a fizz in his step and the swing back in his serve and his wildcard for Wimbledon suddenly looks like an unlikely opportunity to go out in a blaze of glory. With his barely supportive family on the sidelines and Jaime Lannister himself as a hitting partner who looks good in a sauna, it seems Centre Court is beckoning him for one last hurrah. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wimbledon”

Review: The School of Night, Soho Theatre

“It may not be iambic pentameter but it is pretty f*cking close”

In advance of the start of the Edinburgh Festival, there have been many opportunities to sample some of the works going up there in venues across London, though the only one that I managed to fit into the schedule was The School of Night at the Soho Theatre. The main attraction was the fact that the company contained a number of the Showstoppers crew whose work I have enjoyed several times and so I was in no doubt of their improvisational skills. But where that previous show saw the team coming up with a musical on the spot, helped (or hindered) by audience suggestions, The School of Night sees them focusing on the world of literature, culminating in the creation of a uniquely special Shakespeare play that is shaped and guided by whatever the audience calls out.

Starting off with some improv games based on the reading material of the audience and stories we were encouraged to share, the troupe immediately demonstrate their considerable gift of rapid-fire, quick-witted wordplay and repartee which soon had me howling with laughter. There’s something delightful in the sheer abandon with which the players create such imaginative worlds out of seemingly nothing and they obviously relish the freedom given to them in this opening section. Continue reading “Review: The School of Night, Soho Theatre”

Review: Showstopper! with the West End Whingers, Kings Head Theatre

“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”

Review: Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

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”

Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, Gielgud

Marking Dame Judi Dench’s return to the RSC after many years away, this production of All’s Well That Ends Well, one of Shakespeare lesser performed plays, transferred to London from the Swan in Stratford. It is called a problem play as it is neither fully comedy nor tragedy but a curious mixture of fairytale-like wonder, cold realism and gritty humour. Helena loves the arrogant Bertram, son of the Countess of Rousillon, but the only way she can gain him as a husband is as a reward for curing the King of France of a terrible ailment. He reacts badly to being forced into marriage with someone of lowly birth and so runs away to Italy to join the wars but not before fixing two fiendishly difficult conditions to their marriage, things he believes Helena will never be able to achieve but he does not count on her tenacity.

Even in a relatively minor part, which the Countess is it has to be said, Dench is a mesmerising performer, she manages so much with such economy of performance, the simplest gesture or twitch of the face speaks volumes and as the matriarch of the piece, she oozes a compassion and wisdom that makes a firm bedrock for the production. Gary Waldhorn as the King of France does well though as the most senior male character, rising from his sickbed to become an inspirational leader. Continue reading “Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, Gielgud”