I set off for Hull Truck Theatre, on Friday evening, knowing my worst nightmare – audience participation – is probably about to come true.
Showstopper! The Improvised Musical invites audience members to create a musical comedy by shouting out their suggestions – suggestions the cast will endeavour to act out.
My seat on the front row meant there was no hiding place. So, I determined not to make eye contact with anyone on the stage; keep my head down, be invisible and leave the suggestion-making to anybody – just not me.
Billed as a “must-see”, this improvised comedy came to Hull Truck for one night only, as part of a nationwide tour (visit www.showstopperthemusical.com for future venues).
Well, dear reader, my “keeping schtum” resolution lasted approximately 30 seconds – that’s how long it took me to shout “YES!” to the question “Are we going to have a great show?”, asked by Showstopper Dylan Emery at “curtain up”.
Actually, there was no curtain, not even the customary Hull Truck raised stage A couple of tables and some chairs, plus musicians and their instruments, bedecked the floor that was level with our seats. It had to be thus, as no one knew how proceedings would evolve.
Funny thing is, I didn’t miss a fancy setting, as the lively cast held my attention throughout. A look through the show’s free leaflet reveals their names – Jonathan Ainscough, Philip Pellew, Heather Urquhart, Justin Brett, Pippa Evans, and the aforementioned Emery.
First up, this motley crew needed a show to perform – and that’s where we in the, quite well-attended, theatre got involved.
Suggestions came in thick and fast. A parrot in Guatemala City was suggested, but the winner was the Gladiator Gameshow. And the winning title? “See You, Gladiator”
Of course, a musical comedy would be nothing without music and Avenue Q, Moulin Rouge and The Rocky Horror Show were just three to be selected out of many called out by audience members.
As for the comedy part of proceedings, well, this merry band did get a lot of laughs, plus a standing ovation at the end. But I’m jumping ahead…
At the interval, we were invited to tweet our thoughts on how the second half of the show should start. Emery read out many funny comments, and one that stood out was “what happened to these hapless wannabes in their childhood to make them want to become Gladiators?”.
We got all sorts of sob stories, as you can imagine. However, the big day dawned when each one was told they had passed the test and were Gladiators.
One big drawback, though – only one place was available, and they had to fight each other to the death to gain that place. Famous fighter, Wolf (Ainscough), a Gladiator revered by our hapless four, had no idea he was about to be dethroned (this would usually be a spoiler, but as this show will never be repeated, I can get away with it).
I can also, with a clear conscience, report that good overcomes evil and all survive.
This talented band of extremely quick thinkers hardly ever faltered in their improvisation. The odd hesitation was always covered by a giggle, which made us giggle in turn.
Improv, the like of which the Showstoppers excel at, won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But, considering nothing is prepared in advance, with no audience plants, you’ve got to admire their ingenuity.
Reviewer: Jackie Foottit
Reviewed: 21st April 2023
North West End UK Rating: ★★★