24 January 2015
Reviewed by Cathy Porteus
Showstopper is an improvised musical with a rotating cast, so each show not only has a different storyline but also different participants. The show is compered by one of the actors, who invites audience members to contribute and vote on ideas for the setting and name of the musical. For the show at the Lowry, the location was a split vote between Strangeways Prison and an old folks’ home, so democratically the host decided on a coalition of the two ideas – the geriatric wing of a prison called OAP HMP. Ideas are also thrown in for the genres of songs, which was good fun and made sure there were some challenges for the cast.
There were 5 actors performing in the show when we watched it: Ruth Bratt played a centenarian (who was locked up for recommending that the Gulf War was fought on horseback), Pippa Evans was xxx, Philip Pellew was a barrow boy who had been locked up, Nell Mooney played Charlie the Urchin (doubling as the barrow boy’s lost love interest Gloria) and Lucy Trodd took the part of Marjorie, the wordsmith, who when enraged slaughtered dozens of innocent people, armed only with an HB pencil. This all made some kind of sense at the time. It was particularly funny when the host, aided by tweets posted in the interval, did his best to throw esoteric challenges at the performers. The song “Kill Jeremy Kyle, he is vile” sung in the style of the religious satire the Book of Mormon was slightly disturbing but very entertaining none the less.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Showstopper, the idea of improvisation reminds me rather of drama class at school but I like musicals so thought it was worth a try. I had a great night, it made me laugh and I was impressed by the skills of the actors. Some were definitely more prominent than others, Ruth Bratt particularly stood out as the star of the show, but in general they seemed to work well together. When the action seemed to be flagging, the compere stood up and the actors froze in position. Sometimes this was just to have a private laugh at the struggle of the actors but also the audience was allowed to decide which way the story was now going to go.
Saturday night’s host Sean McCann held the event together with style and looked to be genuinely enjoying himself, particularly when onlookers produced more unusual suggestions, which he delighted in using to test the cast’s ingenuity.
The 2 musicians: Yshani Perinpanayagam on the keyboards and Chris Ash on the saxophone, worked hard to ensure that there was appropriate music to accompany each different style of song. At times it was perhaps a little repetitive but then that is probably the case in many musicals and they certainly had a wide range of ditties to play along with.
The Lowry has theatres for every kind and size of show, on this occasion Showstopper took place in the medium sized stage of the Quays Theatre. The audience all seemed to have a great time and roared with laughter and applauded with vim. I would recommend the show to anyone who is prepared to expect the unexpected and forgive the odd stumble in order to enjoy an original surreal entertaining night out.
Showstopper! The Improvised Musical is currently on tour. For more information and tour dates visit www.theshowstoppers.org.
The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays, Manchester, M50 3AZ | 0843 208 6000