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Edinburgh Fringe Review: The Showstoppers

Posted on 10 August 2012 Written by

Billed as an improvised musical comedy, The Showstoppers has received rave five-star reviews from Time Out and other publications, but I left without raising a smile. Others in the packed-out audience seemed to enjoy the show, possibly helped by extended pre-show drinking before the 11pm start. But whether due to my sobriety or simply a lack of sense of humour, I failed to share their feelings.

Now in their fifth season at the Edinburgh Fringe, this team of six performers plus onstage director perform a unique musical each evening based on audience suggestions. In this performance, the suggested location of Jurassic Park inspired our one-off production, Tricerapops. How did the company improvise on such a theme? They didn’t; instead, they performed a well-rehearsed script and selection of songs. Inserting the word ‘dinosaur’ at appropriate intervals – where ‘bus driver’ or ‘porn star’ might have worked equally well – was the extent of the improvisation.

I know improvised shows are prepared to some extent in advance, but they do need to vary notably according to public suggestions. This story, that a pop group visits a *insert location*, a young girl is in love with the lead singer and battles her father to be accepted as an adult, and some *insert location-appropriate disaster* happens from which everyone must escape, was so meticulously planned that describing The Showstoppers as improvised simply because this location was chosen by the audience seems somewhat misleading.

What was at least impressive was the performers’ extensive knowledge of many different musical and play styles, and their ability to imitate them effectively. Certain well-executed scenes took inspiration from the audience’s suggestions of The Cherry Orchard, Chess and Hairspray, among other famous theatrical titles. I have no doubt the company practised every conceivable option in advance but pulling out such comic imitations on demand is worthy of praise.

Unfortunately, even this was not enough to make the performance deserving of more than one star. Perhaps I am missing something – indeed, the rest of the audience seemed most impressed – but for me The Showstoppers was, disappointingly, neither inventive nor funny.

* – 1 Star

Showstoppers is playing at Gilded Balloon as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 27th August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.

11 Comments For This Post

  1. funk Says:

    “i know improvised shows are prepared to some extent in advance”
    “they performed a well-rehearsed script”
    “I have no doubt the company practised every conceivable option in advance”
    “Perhaps I am missing something”

    yes. perhaps.

  2. Alex Says:

    Having seen Showstoppers about 10 times, in both Edinburgh and London, I can confidently say that every single assumption that this reviewer has made about the company’s improvisation method is completely incorrect.

    Maybe she should go and watch the show for a second time and see if her theories stand up?

  3. Ollo Says:

    I know reviews are prepared to some extent in advance, but they do need to vary notably according to facts.

  4. Jake Orr Says:

    Funk, Alex, and Ollo,

    A Younger Theatre has spoken with the company regarding this review, and we will be posting an amended one reflecting the nature of the company’s improvised structure soon.

    Jake Orr
    Editor and Founder
    A Younger Theatre

  5. charlie Says:

    The inaccuracy of this review is staggering.
    Both the hilariously ill-informed opinion of one of the best improvised shows in the country, but also naïve and minimal understanding of impro at its core is woefully ignorant.

    I hope people go and see Showstopper, they’ll laugh at the comedy, and then laugh at this review.

  6. Paul Foxcroft Says:

    I’ve had the good fortune to work with many of the cast of The Showstoppers in the past and I want to make clear that they have in their number some incredibly talented improvisers, all of whom have a burning passion for musical theatre.

    I ask you which is more probable: that “the company practised every conceivable option in advance” or that you saw a team of very talented individuals who created the illusion of a rehearsed show through use of a skill they have honed over (as you state) five years at the Edinburgh Fringe?

    “Perhaps I am missing something – indeed, the rest of the audience seemed most impressed”

    Perhaps you are. I have often thought that to really review an improv show, one ought to see it twice to see how the improvisers cope with each performance. After all, you’re paying for the cast’s skills rather than the content of a play.

    If only there were such a thing as reviews of reviewers.

  7. Jake Orr Says:

    @Paul

    “I have often thought that to really review an improv show, one ought to see it twice”

    You’ll be pleased to hear that A Younger Theatre will be returning to see The Showstoppers to review again.

    We have spoken with the company regarding this review, and they have agreed to let us return to see how the work is produced.

    Watch out for an updated review tomorrow.

    Jake Orr
    Editor and Founder
    A Younger Theatre

  8. Funk Says:

    Sadly it’s rather symptomatic of review sites to send people who don’t know the first thing about improv to improv gigs. You wouldn’t send a stand-up comedy reviewer to a dance show, but there’s barely any recognition or understanding of what improvisation actually is.
    The first publication to make an effort to understand it as an artform will be regarded as pioneers. Mark my words.

  9. Paul Foxcroft Says:

    @Jake

    A thought occurs: if a theoretical improv show was an excellently entertaining show but an equally theoretical reviewer had doubts that it was truly improvised, how does one review that show?

    I recall some years ago the Improverts had a review that read something like “too good a show to be improvised. One Star.” Which they had printed on banners and proudly marched about with, celebrating the compliment that had tried to damn them.

    Your reviewer doubts, for whatever reason, the veracity of the Showstoppers’ claim to be improvised (they are – they’re the hardest working improv troupe I know of, but by God they improvise), but keeps noting that they’re good.

    My question is, what exactly is the reviewer’s mandate here?

  10. Thom Dibdin Says:

    I must declare myself as one of the older critics who “saturate” theatre culture, against whom this website has been set up to provide a younger voice.

    I think Laura’s biggest mistake has been to put herself too much in her review. A strong review should not be about whether the reviewer liked or didn’t like the show – that would be a foolish state of affairs. It should provide some critique of whether the company being reviewed has done what it set out to do.

    I am happy to leave a comedy show which I was reviewing without having raised a smile. It isn’t my job to smile. It is my job to observe and report. That is a serious job, demanding a serious attitude. That is why the best websites and newspapers employ their critics rather than using an army of amateur volunteers.

    Audiences who have paid good money to see a show will be inclined to enjoy themselves – it is part of the contract in purchasing a ticket. The actors intertain, the theatre provides a forum for entertainment and the audience is entertained.

    The reviewer is there to provide an external eye. Laura is right to not use the audience’s reactions to Showstoppers (or The Showstoppers as we must now learn to call it) as her only barometer for assesing the show’s worth – although being so out of kilter she would have been wise to have had more consideration of what was being said around her.

    @Paul Foxcroft 1: “If only there were such a thing as reviews of reviewers.” I love the irony of that statement at the end of a comment, reviewing the review!

    @Paul Foxcroft 2: “if a theoretical improv show was an excellently entertaining show but an equally theoretical reviewer had doubts that it was truly improvised, how does one review that show?” I think the answer is to write with intelligence and work out how to put that into the review. Reviewing improv is hugely difficult, in technical terms.

    @Paul Foxcroft 3: “the Improverts had a review that read something like “too good a show to be improvised. One Star.” Which they had printed on banners and proudly marched about with, celebrating the compliment that had tried to damn them.” Excellent point. I notice that James Seabright is already capitalising on this review in a similar fashion – although it doesn’t provide nearly as clear-cut a quote as the Improverts’ one.

    @Jake: I hope that you don’t remove this review when you put up the new one. It is entertaining and informative in its own right.

  11. Bill Savage Says:

    Thom, it’s lovely of you to stop by but your hardly-hid glee at the shortcomings of one review by one blogger, it doesn’t really become you. A vibrant critical culture is an ecosystem with a niche for the older animal but also a diversity of new voices, needing space to fail and develop. The very diversity makes a better conversation. Use your wisdom to help that grow, don’t slap it down. Ta.

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