Whether you get on with what Showstoppers do is something you can work out pretty quickly: do you enjoy or at least tolerate musicals? And do you like your comedy in the vein of one of those Radio 4 comedy shows broadcast at 6.30pm on weekday evenings? If you can tick both those boxes, you’re pretty sure to have a fab time.
Within those constraints, the Showstoppers experience is thoroughly enjoyable. A talented cast spin audience suggestions about where the musical will be set, and what sort of songs will feature, and run with that to create near enough two hours of entertainment out of thin air. They’re guided in this by a director who chucks in suggestions from time to time about what kind of musical number might be required at particular moments for an added bit of challenge and to give the piece a satisfying dramatic shape.
The theme voted for is Pompeii, which handily provides a framework involving Romans and a volcano, to which adding a posh bloke who has too much totty and needs to settle down with one lover works just fine. A keyboard player and drummer provide musical backing, sometimes with the director joining in on guitar. And we’re off…
Versatile and energetic, the cast are impressive throughout, managing to both impress with flights of fancy in their own songs, and the way they support one another to deliver a complete show. Sometimes it feels a bit safe, but it’s not long before someone will take the ball and run with it in a direction that looks like it will up-end what’s happening – the recurrence of Dudley Zoo as a story element does that deliciously.
The main criticism I have is that it’s all a bit safe. I’ve seen improvisation run in truly dark and dangerous directions, and that can be a powerful experience. While I get why that might not appeal to a broad audience, keeping things pretty much mainstream puts constraints on what improvisation can achieve. Some more diversity in the cast would be good too – they were flummoxed at what to do with Bollywood and went for something generic because they’re more knowledgeable about Lloyd Webber. Similarly, most couldn’t wait to get hip hop out of the way – it wasn’t quite as awkward as watching Stephen Fry rap, but it wasn’t far off.
Overall, a highly enjoyable night out – and I suspect the kids’ show might be even more enjoyable. There’s one coming up on Saturday afternoon, and adult shows too. Check it out, and prepare to be thoroughly entertained.
Showstoppers! The Improvised Musical is at Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 22 April 2017.
The Showstoppers website