One thing I have really missed about theatre has been the sheer joy it brings to both cast and audience as they share in a collective live experience. Showstopper! The (Socially Distanced!) Improvised Musical manages to capture this perfectly despite the cast members being socially distanced in individual plastic booths all while interacting and feeding off of their their live audience, spread out across the globe, all of which was directed and presented by Andrew Pugsley. This is theatre redefined for our extraordinary, unprecedented times.
The plot of Showstopper! is unique and personal to the specific performance as it is created for and by the audience. The title of this particular musical, as chosen by the audience, was The Balloon Where It Happens (an obvious Hamilton reference) and centred around the lives of two couples, Lilian and Mori and Suzanne and Maurice, as they reflect on their lives together while celebrating the former’s wedding anniversary on a trip ‘Up Up and Away’ in a hot air balloon looking over New York City. An unexpected turn of events sees the group caught up in a thunderstorm which transports them back in time to their youth in around 1920, though the timing seems to change and get confused due to the nature of improvised theatre, and chaos ensues as every decision made changes and shapes how their lives would look back in the present day. What ensued was eighty minutes of both joy and raw emotion keeping the audience on the edge of their sofas before concluding with a beautiful message of living and loving each and every day to the fullest.
The cast was full of energy and the chemistry between them was electric. They appeared to connect with each other, seemingly telepathically, in order to produce a piece that flowed beautifully telling a story of love, life and regret – I was in awe of their ability even in these bizarre circumstances. Adam Meggido (who played Mori) was a personal highlight for me as he was so emotive and expressive managing to take the audience with him whether it was in a taxi in the 1920s as a youthful ambitious man or in a hot air balloon where he was portraying a much older character and everything in between, and his body language, expressions and gestures more than made up for the inability to move and interact with fellow cast in close proximity due to social distancing.
The entire cast were professional and in character throughout but when they did occasionally break, such as in an impromptu song about a french side character Pierre becoming US President, that was performed in the style of the Muppets, you could see the joy on their faces and you could tell they were having the time of their lives.
There was no staging in the traditional sense as the cast all were in booths filmed individually as cameras switched between them to move the plot along.That did not matter or take away from it, partly due to the amazing cast. The subtle costume changes (hats, scarfs etc) helped to differentiate between major and minor characters. It was manic and fun to watch especially when Justin Brett (Maurice) appeared as a New York Taxi Driver with a large crop of black hair and a strong accent (as opposed to the calm and collected Maurice) and made my housemate and I giggle.
The music was exceptional! It really helped to set the tone and feel of the show and some of the songs had me in tears thanks to the beautiful score. It was also impressive the band (made up of Alex Atty and Duncan Walsh Atkins) managed to play inspired pieces with a moments notice at the request of the audience ranging from the classic ‘The Boyfriend’ to more modern shows like ‘Hamilton’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’.
It seems that online live performances are the future of theatre, at least fo the time being, and if this means more Showstopper! The (Socially Distanced) Improvised Musical livestreams I for one will not be complaining, although I look forward to seeing the back company on stage in their full glory.
Main Image: The Showstoppers c. Hugo Glendinning