showstopper the improvised musical edinburgh fringe

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical review | Consistently impressive improv

★★★★☆ Fringe (and now West End) stalwarts Showstopper! return to the festival with an hour of solid improv spectacle.

Every year at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Showstopper! basically sell out the Pleasance Grand – one of the largest venues at the festival – and for good reason.

Adopting a fairly standard improvised musical formula, the show starts with an unseen producer demanding a brand-new musical in the next 70 minutes. To that end, the cast ask the audience for a setting, four musical styles and a name for their latest show, and we’re off.

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Though the Fringe circuit certainly isn’t wanting for good improv or even good musical improv, the big-budget company has made a name for itself with huge, appropriately showstopping musical numbers made up entirely on the spot. Year after year, Showstopper! continue to impress with a remarkable eye for surprisingly un-choreographed dance routines, enjoyably daft set-pieces and a band remarkably adept at mimicking whatever song or composer is thrown at them.

In purely technical terms, it’s a remarkable feat. The improvisers (Ruth Bratt, Justin Brett, Dylan Emery, Pippa Evans, Adam Meggido, Andrew Pugsley and Lucy Trodd on Thursday night’s show) show off their skills not so much in narrative cohesion but through teamwork. Early in the show, what appeared to be a lyrical blunder by a cast member was quickly made into the song’s chorus by the rest of the cast. It’s that sense that, as in all good improv, the group have each other’s backs that makes Showstopper! a consistently comfortable watch, if not one that holds up brilliantly to repeat viewings.

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That’s because the more one sees Showstopper! the more the seams begin to show. Each night has, by necessity, a very familiar structure which, though it does allow for those impressive big-budget musical highlights, does reduce the show’s capacity to shake things up.

The narrative on Thursday (a Legally Blonde and Taylor Swift-inspired garden centre musical called Caba-rake) lacked much of the narrative tidiness of many other improv shows on the circuit. While the cast are quick to come in with one-liners and callbacks, the plot all too often seems to fall by the wayside.

The result is a show that, though it’ll undoubtedly put a hefty smile on your face, isn’t always as memorable as exceptional long-form improv can be. Still, for first-time Fringe-goers, Showstopper! offers a consistently comfortable foray into the improv scene – with some catchy tunes to boot.

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical is playing at Pleasance Courtyard – The Grand at 21:10 from 4-27 August. Check out the rest of our Edinburgh Festival Fringe coverage here.

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