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Showstopper | Liverpool Playhouse

The art of improv can be tricky to get to grips with, and fiendishly difficult to master, so for most of us, the notion of improvising a new musical each night may seem like a near impossibility, thankfully the Showstopper! team are seasoned pros, making the whole thing look like a walk in the park day after day. Comprising a rotating roster of 19 performers, as well as 10 accompanying musicians, a handful of these feature during each show, with one performer playing the “producer” of the new show, acting as the mediator throughout, and the others (usually around 5 or 6) acting out a different, fully improvised story each day.

In terms of its creative formula, Showstopper! very much follows the traditional tropes and techniques of improvised theatre, which in and of themselves are difficult enough to execute. What sets this Olivier-winning entertainment show apart is how the team not only manage to come up with every character, piece of dialogue, scene and song completely off the cuff, but also devise a narrative that, on top of making sense, has the audience fully engaged, as well as thoroughly entertained, which is no mean feat. The fact that the audience also act as an additional element of the creative team epitomises the show's charm and uniqueness, with this particular evening’s attendees pitching a story about polyamory in a nursing home, entitled “Between the sheets”, with suggested musical styles ranging from Rodgers & Hammerstein to Stephen Sondheim and Lin-Manuel Miranda, keeping both the audience and the performers on their toes.

Sean McCann entertained throughout as the master of ceremonies, fully engaging the audience at various points during the evening, as he endeavoured to deliver new material to performers Justin Brett, Susan Harrison, Ali James, Andrew Pugsley and Pippa Evans, whose collective chemistry was effortless and endearing. The five of them delighted with some fantastic conjured-up musical numbers, including an ode to the rules of cribbage, a Hamilton-esque rap battle between two feuding pensioners, and a chorus of cats (the animals, not the musical) accompanying a Hairspray style number about love. The general standard of vocals on display from the cast was strong, combined with some brilliant comic acting, that made all of us, and occasionally themselves, laugh a great deal in the process.

As far as the music itself goes, it can never be underestimated how much high quality musicianship is required to be an improvisatory instrumentalist, as you need to be able to think on your feet and react, and often in tandem with other players; pianist and musical supervisor Duncan Walsh Atkins, along with drummer Nathan Gregory, were the two unsung heroes of the evening, combining flawlessly to accompany the actors on stage, and they did not miss a beat in spite of one or two slightly chaotic moments.

The beauty of this show is that you will never see or hear the same performance twice, which adds so much to its already considerable universal appeal, as it gives the production unmatched rewatchability value. Showstopper! is a fun, immersive and family-friendly show, but more importantly it just makes you laugh, and you can find this show at Liverpool Playhouse until 11th May. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Alex Brenner


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