I’m not the first one to admit that improvised drama scares me. It’s one of the hardest things to do; combine that with singing, dancing and making sure that the plot advances, and you quickly realise Showstopper! The Improvised Musical is genius. From fairy grotto to Daily Mail office, we saw characters big and small, hilarious moments and genuine ones. There is nothing like it on the West End at the moment.
Considering it’s a completely improvised show, they did well to perform twice in one day. The fact they were willing to give us tickets for both shows is encouraging as well; it shows they want to be co-operative with the critics. As a company, they were a professional, tight-knit team that picked up each other’s cues very well; the peak of improv comedy. What was interesting was even though the dialogue is all improvised, the songs had to follow a fairly loose formula. One performer would sing a hook, which the other performers would then follow with almost seamless harmonies.
Although they were all very entertaining, Ruth Bratt was my favourite performer. She had this talent of almost breaking and then completely saving it with the weirdest, most surreal lines. One of my favourites was “of course dogs don’t exist”. I warmed to Dylan Emery (the MC) too; he was very much in control of how the performance played out, and knew when to interrupt when things were taken too far.
My boyfriend saw them in Edinburgh, and compared them to another, more spontaneous and interesting improv show (he argued). Whilst I didn’t see the other show and so can’t really compare the two, I think the reason this one has been given a West End run is exactly because of its structure: most of the West End paying audience don’t particularly want to see an overly chaotic absurd piece. They want introduction, complication, climax, resolution. And whilst the actors don’t know the setting, words or the music they’ll sing, they’re not about to start throwing mud in your face (something that actually happened at the Fringe, apparently).
The MC mentioned at the end of the show that they’d been doing it for 8 years (!!) so it’s clearly an (ironically) very well-practiced show. The crux, I suppose, of the show is – if the performers are improvising a show every night, does it in turn become routine? It’s hard to talk about in terms of improv because the show was so different each time. A paradox occurs – they’re improvising a show they’ve done a hundred times. The experiences are different – for the audience, it’s only a onetime thing, and so for them it will be completely unique. But for the entire production team, they will be entering that space every night, expecting to create something different – does that expectation then mean that it becomes similar?
I’m doing a modern theatre module this year at university. You can probably tell…
Anyway, big questions aside – it’s a really fun night out, genuine belly laughs and not too much thought involved. You can go and have a good time and come out knowing they are masters of their craft.
Showstopper! The Improvised Musical is playing at the Apollo Theatre until 29 November. For more information and tickets, see the Showstoppers! website.