Apollo Theatre, London – until 29 November
You won’t see this show again, nor the other Showstoppers’ evenings I have loved in Edinburgh. If you weren’t there tonight you’ve missed a medley of Daily Mail headlines in the style of Fiddler on the Roof, a Mamma Mia finale, a Gypsy Kings’-style stamping love duet, a corgi chorus, Shakespeare rap, West Side Story rumble at the Cereal Cafe to a backing of “Snap Crackle and Pop”, and a moody Kurt Weill number. But don’t worry. Get down to the Apollo, shout a few suggestions at random, tweet some more dodgy suggestions in the interval, and watch your most feverish, late-night musical-theatre fantasies come true.
I adore the Showstoppers, because few sights are more enlivening than consummate, long-trained skill giving itself to the service of pure frivol. The runaway success of Mischief Theatre’s The Play That Goes Wrong proved that: do silliness well enough, and Britain will sit at your feet. This one may well follow it. The crowd-funders who have brought this musical improvisation company to its first West End run were right to believe in it: the tickets are cannily priced (it’s fine up in the circle, and under-25s get terrific half-price deals). As a way to spend a couple of hours with your mates just down the road from dreary old Thriller, it beats a lot of full-fledged musicals. Devised and perfected over eight years by Dylan Emery and Adam Meggido, with Duncan Walsh Atkins as musical guru and director, the group each night deploy seven out of the twelve players, men and women, and three of the five musicians in the tight company. They are all so well-accustomed to picking up off one another musically and verbally that a crazy, patchwork, but oddly satisfying musical results.
What happens is that the MC (Emery) on the side of the stage pretends to be cobbling up a pitch for a Cameron Mackintosh on the phone, and canvasses the audience for settings and titles (“The Daily Mail office” was the set this time, the title “The Lying King”). Other demands are randomly met: in this case the Cereal Cafe, the Queen’s corgis giving birth, and Jeremy Corbyn. The team take every theme up and run with it, occasionally freeze-framed by the MC taking an audience vote on the next development.
Sudden chorus lines appear, devising appropriate dances; two-player scenes flow naturally until one actor attempts to wrongfoot the other, who recovers magnificently; whole new musical genres are thrown to the musicians and created on the hoof by the singers. At one point on this particular night the MC demanded of us “some typical meaningless Cockney saying” and someone on the floor shouted “Up your bananas, Daddy!” . Seconds later, a riotous dancing Chas ’n Dave chorus was in full swing.
Always – each time I have seen it – the nonsense builds into huge, harmonic choruses which remind you why even quite lousy musicals jerk the heartstrings if you let them. Actually, you could acquire a full education in the styles and abilities of musical theatre by going every night . One is tempted. And this review, let me finally tell you, comes from someone who as a rule, really dislikes improv comedy. Must be the music that lifts it to something special.
box office 0844 4829671 to 29 November http://www.showstopperlondon.com
rating Five. The fifth is for sheer nerve. They deserve the cheese for courage.