Showstopper at Oxford Playhouse

We’ve all seen TV shows like Whose Line in it Anyway or wondered at rehearsal techniques for Mike Leigh plays and films (well I have anyway). But an improvised musical? How is this possible? Well the Showstopper team showed us how it was done and had the audience eating out of their hands. Ingredients – a set with a few pieces of versatile moveable ‘scenery’, a small band of musicians, a very skilled, experienced group of performers and us, the audience. For it is the audience who help create the show by providing ideas for setting, title and titles of musicals/composers that can be woven into the piece.

It all begins with a red phone ringing onstage. A man picks up and we hear that ‘Cameron’ (yes, the man himself) is demanding a new musical by the end of the evening. ‘Can we do it?’, asks the man (who becomes the MC, the link between audience and performers). ‘Yes’ comes the unanimous audience cry. And we are hooked, we are part of the action. We can choose any theme except Trump or Brexit and we are all relieved. This is going to be a fun show remember!

There is obviously a well-rehearsed formula or range of formulas to enable the success of this show but with a different setting every time, lyrics and spoken word were certainly spontaneous. Because the five main performers play multiple roles, some of the most amusing moments emerged when a character was not greeted as the person he/she thought he/she was in that particular scene. This added to the ‘we’re all in this together’ feeling, with the audience relishing the intimacy of the show not going according to plan (although of course there is no plan remember!). Special mention should go to the wonderful Pippa Evans who is an extremely gifted comedian and I felt really carried the show, although all the cast triumphed in their own ways.

Every show will be unique but for information, our audience chose to set its show in a Swiss ski chalet with the title, Songs in the Ski of Life. We also chose musicals including Sondheim’s Assassins to Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel for the cast to weave into the performance. Their pastiche offerings were very well done.

It’s silly, very enjoyable fun, hugely demanding of its cast and even after ten years, I’m sure it will run and run.   ★★★★☆   Karin André   11th January 2018