Words: Simon Button
If laughter spreads coronavirus, everyone who was at the West End's Garrick Theatre on Monday night had best go into quarantine just to be on the safe side.
The game-for-anything cast of Showstopper! The Improvised Musical had us all in stitches for a swift 75-minute performance that saw us clutching our sides as we rose en masse for a standing ovation. And even though COVID safety measures meant the auditorium was only half full, the applause was deafening.
Partly, I think, we were applauding the concept of theatre itself. West End venues have been pretty much shuttered for nine months so just to be in an auditorium with hundreds of others, with real live actors on stage in front of us, was intoxicating.
But then so was the go-for-it gusto of the six players (Andrew Pugsley, Adam Meggido, Pippa Evans, Ali James and Justin Brett) tasked with putting on an impromptu show under the direction of a theatrical puppet-master (Dylan Emery) and very much at the whimsy of the audience itself.
Showstopper! has been going since 2008 and in pre-COVID days spectators would shout out suggestions for settings and musical theatre styles for the cast to riff upon. It’s hard to make audible suggestions through a face covering, though, so instead we did it via texts and tweets which Emery then got the house to vote on.
When I first saw the troupe last year they ended up doing a musical on a Cornish allotment with songs in the style of Rent, Wicked and 42nd Street. This time it had much more contemporary resonance as it was all about a bunch of out-of-work actors, had something vaguely to do with a future history class and featured socially-distanced song-and-dance numbers in the manner of Hamilton and Six as well as old stalwarts like Sondheim and The Rocky Horror Show.
I assume they have a huge roster of musical pastiches up their sleeves and a few basic plotlines to draw upon, but what they conjure up in front of your eyes and ears is as funny as it is clever, as spot-on in skewering musical theatre cliches as it is deeply affectionate towards them.
It’s also the ultimate show for repeat attenders because you’re never gonna get the same thing twice.
And even at a running time that wouldn’t accommodate even the first act of some of the more bloated musicals, it’s not a Scotch egg of a show - it’s a substantial meal.
Showstopper! The Improvised Musical is back at the Garrick Theatre, London, on 11 January, 8 and 22 February, and 8 and 22 March. It is also touring the UK from 15 December.
For more information visit showstopperthemusical.com