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.