Co-creator & Director: Dylan Emery and Adam Meggido
Reviewer: Lela Tredwell
Winner of an Olivier Award, the improvised musical extravaganza Showstopper! halts many a written show in its tracks.
With a stunning mix of improvised comedy, extraordinary musical talent and creative collaborations, this show has to be seen to be believed. Even then, the audience can be forgiven for being suspicious as to how the extraordinary performance can be as spontaneous as it claims. This polished approach to improvisation bypasses some of the joy to be found in watching performers processing information in the moment and replaces it with a slick unapologetic style to suit its purposes of sitting beside scripted West End musicals.
Co-creator Dylan Emery plays the Director, acting as a go-between for producer Cameron who, we are told, is demanding a new musical by the end of the night. Emery guides the audience in collecting the key components for the show’s creation. This format allows for us to feel we play a crucial part in the building of the musical by inviting us to be responsible for many key details, including the location, title, musical styles and even plot developments.
Tonight’s unique audience suggestions are for a travel agency that specialises in trips through time and for the musical to be entitled ‘Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That’. The cast then use the audience’s offers mesmerisingly to create a playful time travelling narrative which brings to mind Much Ado About Nothing. However, they still manage to make it about something, while also being funny, charming and musically accomplished.
The whole cast are phenomenally talented. It’s a delight to watch them all together collaborating in the moment. A favourite sequence in the second half involves them creating a carousel of characters originating from different eras, including dinosaurs, Vikings and Charles Dickens in a cart-share.
Throughout the show it’s a pleasure to watch the performers getting tangled into time travelling conundrums. One such situation sees love rival Julian, played by Adam Meggido, stuck fighting in a robot war in the future. This side narrative rather steals the show as he meets a robot played by Heather Urquhart. The epic song they create together ‘Love is Like Electricity’ is beautifully poignant, hilarious and melts even the steeliest of hearts.
The comic timing of Heather Urquhart is nothing short of genius. She is a master of her craft with an exceptional voice. She plays three distinctive characters, all highly enjoyable to watch. As the devious sadistic duchess, she leads a fabulous song in the style of The Lion King entitled ‘The Cycle of Life and Death’, with the aid of Andrew Pugsley, squirming deliciously as the hapless Michael.
This is truly a performance for musical lovers. Musicians Duncan Walsh Atkins and Alex Atty, do a mind blowing job of supporting the cast as they create show-stopping number after show-stopping number. Another favourite with the audience is created by Ali James whose reflections on the complexities of life as the indecisive Sandra, tap into universal truths. Her solo ‘Men’, a song about Sandra’s love interests in the style of Fiddler on the Roof is stunningly realised, with comic choreography from the male characters.
Philip Pellew also joyfully demonstrates a wide range as the Tribune Emperor Duke Lord creating a song about ancestors in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan, a George Fornby inspired number concerning his codpiece and, together with Ali James, a tribute to Dirty Dancing. One of the greatest thrills in this show is watching the cast work together in the moment to support and make space for each other’s ideas. They wrap the narrative up beautifully, tying in all the loose ends, including seeing again Urquhart’s rotten fish seller who earlier on destroyed the space-time continuum.
Showstopper! has the thrill of being different every time you see it but you can always rely on the cast for epic songs, big dance numbers and spontaneity of a magic kind. If you love musicals, this is very likely to be your happy place… and time. Stunningly performed and ingeniously constructed.
Reviewed on 11th June.