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REVIEW - Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

Updated: Apr 2

Musical Theatre, improv

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2023


Showstopper! The Improvised Musical review

When I'm reviewing at the Edinburgh Fringe I'm always mindful that I'm reviewing just that - Fringe Theatre. The majority of shows take place in small, temporary venues. None of them have big budgets, and sets need to be kept to a bare minimum to allow for a quick exit from the venue. I always judge an Edinburgh show based on what they have done with the elements that they can control: The performances, the book, the musical numbers, the tech.

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical’ is a little different: It's a well established show that comes to the festival direct from a West End residency at the Cambridge Theatre and a nationwide tour. The show has been playing in one format or another since 2008, and has even won an Olivier Award. It's fitting therefore that it plays at one of the biggest venues at The Fringe, the 750 seat Pleasance Grand.

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical. Photo by Lisa in the theatre

Having seen their posters in Edinburgh over the years for one reason or another, I have never made it to their show. I always thought it was just another improvised musical, that I wasn't really missing anything... Well, I popped my 'Showstopper!' cherry this weekend, and I can honestly say it was phenomenal!

The show is immaculately run and presented, the onstage band are brilliant, and the cast of actors are frankly, unbelievable. They present a full, 70 minute comedy musical, based entirely on audience suggestions - and it's completely different every night.

At the performance I saw, audience suggestions for the setting ranged from a pirate ship to Mars, but we eventually settled on a Cumbrian Hill farm. The musical styles to be incorporated were 'The Book of Mormon', 'Camelot', 'Kander and Ebb' and The Spice Girls. The title for the world premier of this fabulous new musical? Zig-a-zig Baa. Genius!

The live band sit at the side of the stage and they play fantastic musical theatre tunes with recognisable beats and riffs, and then somehow, implausibly, the cast spontaneously improvise lyrics and a storyline along with the tunes. It's remarkable. Throughout the show the onstage action is halted to allow for further audience input, and thanks to that, we soon found our cast heading towards Tebay services on the M6!

The cast cleverly incorporate small props and costumes to great effect. And the teasing between them as the show progresses and the stakes rise, is priceless. How they manage to bring the narrative arc full circle, to hit every plot point and finish the show in a suitable place, is some kind of witchcraft.

All I know is that I laughed my socks off and I clapped with glee for almost an hour and a half straight. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and if the standing ovation was anything to go by, I was certainly not alone. The cheering and the standing actually started about 5 minutes before the end of the show... the audience was ecstatic and so was I. My only regret is that it was a one-off; The magic of Zig-a-zig Baa has now been lost to Musical Theatre folklore forever.

Don't hesitate to see this group and this show. It's a marvel.


Showstopper! The Improvised Musical cast. Photo credit: Ray Burniston

When and Where?

Venue: The Pleasance Courtyard - Grand

Time: 9.10pm (runs 70 minutes)

Dates: 2nd - 27th August (except 15th August)

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, Musical Theatre, improv, Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2023. Photo by Lisa in the theatre

About Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

For those who haven’t yet experienced the live phenomenon that is ‘Showstopper! The Improvised Musical’, it is a fully-realised musical created live on the spot from audience suggestions. The cast take suggestions from the audience for the setting and musical styles and turn them into ingenious storylines, hilarious characters and stunning song and dance numbers. The audience also name that night’s show, which is added to The Showstoppers’ archive of more than 1,200 shows that they have performed since the show's inception in 2008.

So, whether it's a Broadway barnstormer or sophisticated Sondheim, whether it's set in an American high school, ancient Egypt or a coffee shop – if the audience suggests it, The Showstoppers will perform it!

The group are long running, well known and renowned for their improvisation work. Most cast members have also received acclaim in their own right. The Showstoppers have been working on the show since 2008, figuring out how to improvise in increasingly esoteric styles, musical, dance, straight theatre, and film genres to name but a few.

The show has been at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the past 13 years and now has a reputation as a ‘Must See’ Edinburgh Fringe show. In the Autumn of 2015, it became the first longform improv show to have a full run in the West End at the Apollo Theatre, followed by a 7-year residency at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue before finding its new home at the Cambridge.

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical cast. Photo credit: Ray Burniston

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical CAST & CREDITS:

Jonathan Ainscough: actor, singer, multi-instrumentalist, director, writer, musical director and arranger. He studied Music at Manchester University, before completing a Masters in Performance at the Royal Northern College of Music. He has worked for the Royal Opera House, Welsh National Opera, Opera North, the Royal Exchange Theatre and the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and works for the award-winning charity Streetwise Opera, leading music and drama workshops with people experiencing homelessness.

Ruth Bratt is in all three series of BAFTA-winning show People Just Do Nothing (BBC2). She wrote and performed Trodd En Bratt Say Well Done You with Lucy Trodd (BBC Radio 4). She is a regular guest with The Comedy Store Players and is part of The Glenda J Collective alongside Josie Lawrence, Cariad Lloyd and Pippa Evans. Credits include Derek (C4), Mongrels (BBC3), and Sarah Millican’s Support Group (BBC Radio 4). @ruthbratt

Justin Brett has worked recently as Johnny Cash in Million Dollar Quartet (West End) and extensively in theatres across the UK. He also co-runs Duke’s Comedy Club. TV: EastEnders. Peep Show; Pulling; Dombey & Son; The Queen’s Nose; The Bill; London`s Burning; GhoulLashed; Spooky. Film: War Horse; Gulliver’s Travels; The Fallen; Brothers.

Matt Cavendish trained at LAMDA. Theatre: Showstopper! (Lyric, West End), The Play That Goes Wrong (Broadway/West End), Peter Pan Goes Wrong (West End and UK Tour), Lights! Camera! Improvise! (Mischief Theatre), Sleeping Beauty (Park Theatre), The Boys From Syracuse (Union), The Borrowers (Erica Whyman), An Intimate Evening with Ruthie Henshall, News Revue. TV: Christmas Carol Goes Wrong (BBC).

Dylan Emery (co-creator/director) has performed at the National Theatre, Royal Court, Shakespeare’s Globe, Bristol Old Vic and many times at the Edinburgh Fringe as well as chairing The Showstoppers’ BBC Radio 4 series. He co-founded comedy outfit Grand Theft Impro, is half of Ghost Couple along with Ruth Bratt, is a member of ‘hard-bardics’ troupe The School of Night and runs, a website dedicated to improvisation in the UK. @dylanemery

Pippa Evans is a comedian, an improviser and the calm behind the comical beast that is Loretta Maine. She has been on the radio (The Now Show, 15 Minute Musical, Chatshow Roulette), on TV (Drunk History (Comedy Central), Live at The Electric (BBC3), Fast and Loose (BBC2)) and on tour (Melbourne, Hong Kong, Litchfield). She has received accolades (Best Newcomer Nominee (if.comeddies), Best Musical Act Nominee (Chortle)) and been reviewed (‘Fabulously talented’ Time Out). Twitter: @iampippaevans

Susan Harrison is an actor, writer & improviser.TV credits include: Class Dismissed (CBBC), DNN (CBBC). Theatre credits include: Mischief Movie Night (Mischief Theatre) Peter Pan Goes Wrong (Mischief Theatre), Robin Hood and Marian (New Vic), The Elephantom (National Theatre). Radio includes: Gemma Arrowsmith’s Emergency Broadcast (BBC Radio 4), The Simon Day Show (BBC Radio 4). She writes with Lucy Trodd & has an improvised folk musical These Folk with Justin Brett. - Twitter:@SueHarrison123 - Instagram: @susanyeeha

Joshua Jackson originally hails from Oakland, California. He has a BA in Music and Theatre at Colgate University, New York and a Master of Arts from the Arts Educational School, London. His professional credits include: A Long Day’s Journey Into Night and The Tempest, both directed by Kelly Hunter; Planet 3 with Bigger Bang Studios; and voice work for Black Mirror and Keep It Real.

Ali James has performed in numerous pantomimes and musicals nationwide including Norwich Theatre Royal and QDOS Entertainment and has worked as lead vocalist for P&O at sea. She has created several roles in workshop musicals for Perfect Pitch and enjoyed success at the Edinburgh Festival with her sketch group Giraffe.

Sean McCann has improvised at Shakespeare’s Globe (with The School of Night), Royal Court, Soho Theatre, West End and Elsinore Castle Denmark. Also, BBC Radio 3 and 4. He is the veteran of 18 Improvathons (multi-day improv shows without sleep) in London, Bristol, Liverpool, Canada and Ireland, including the Toronto 55 Hour in December 2013 - the world’s longest-ever long-form. As a director, recent work includes collaborations with Instant Broadway (Andre Theatre, Oslo), Blue (for Bugiardini, Rome) and both Singing in the Dark and Shakespeare Inedito (Italy, touring).

Adam Meggido (co-creator/director) is director of Olivier-nominated comedies: Peter Pan Goes Wrong (Broadway, West End, UK tour, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Canada); Magic Goes Wrong (West End, UK tour); and consultant on Mischief Movie Night (West End and UK tour), and A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong (BBC). He has improvised at Royal National Theatre, Royal Court, Shakespeare’s Globe, BBC TV & radio, with The Society Of Strange, The School Of Night, Ken Campbell, Nina Conti, and Rhapsodes. He is the author of Improv Beyond Rules (Nick Hern Books), is a world record holder in improvisation (55 hours in Toronto, 2013), and creator of the London 50 Hour Improvathon, which has played annually since 2008. Adam’s musical, Burlesque, won Best New Musical at the 2012 Offie Awards. He also wrote lyrics and co-composed the west end musical Tailor Made Man. @adammeggido

Ethan Pascal Peters (he/him) is a British-Caribbean performer, director, and writer from West London. He trained on the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts MA Professional Acting course (2020/21). Credits include: Errol in Errol's Garden (Golden Toad Theatre); Ensemble in Perfect Show for Rachel (Zoo Co Theatre); Laurie in Little Women: The Musical (Dugdale Arts Centre).

Philip Pellew has been improvising for over 25 years including in: Theatresports at the Donmar Warehouse, Hamlet Improvised, The Impro Musical, Impropera and festivals around the world, radio and TV. He has UK and West End theatre credits and is a founder member of the David Glass Ensemble, appearing in Popeye, O The Wall, Gormenghast and The Red Thread. For 6 years he was part of the Lost Child Project working with marginalised children around the world.

Martha Pothen is a British-Indian actress from Essex. She trained at The Royal Academy of Music and the University of York. Credits include: Snow White and the Happy Ever After Beauty Salon (Salisbury Playhouse), The Visit (National Theatre), Cold Feet and Bacon Sandwiches (Hampstead Theatre) and was OFFIE-nominated for her professional debut performance in Privates on Parade (Union Theatre).

Andrew Pugsley trained in musical theatre at Circle in the Square Theatre School, New York. He’s recently been performing internationally with improvised horror show, The Society of Strange, and improv comedy troupe Panthercannon. Other theatre: Game Theory (Tristan Bates); The Mikado (The Tabard); MC for Singalong Oliver! (Royal Festival Hall); Wind in the Willows (Brewhouse Theatre). Voiceover: The Prisoner of Zenda (Naxos Audiobooks). @andrewdpugsley

Lauren Shearing trained at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. She is a cast member of the award-winning 'Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel' and she joins Mischief Theatre for their improvised film show 'Mischief Movie Night'. She is one half of improv double act Breaking & Entering, one third of three-woman improv troupe Anxiety Club, and a regular guest with the renowned Comedy Store Players.

Joy Tan (they/them) is a Singaporean-Chinese performer and 2021 graduate of Mountview’s MA Musical Theatre programme. Previously seen as Abby/Thomas/Lara (A-Typical Rainbow, Turbine Theatre, 2022), Ensemble (The Crucible, National Theatre, 2022) and Zella (Jungle Rumble, Fortune Theatre, 2022). Credits while training include Small Alison/Joan (Fun Home, 2020), Charity (Sweet Charity, 2020) and Giuseppe Zangara (Assassins, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, 2019).

Lucy Trodd has been improvising for nearly 20 years (on TV, stage, radio and in VR). She designed and ran The Improv Academy for Cardboard Citizens and co-wrote and performed two series of Well Done You for BBC Radio 4. In partnership with Susan Harrison, she wrote, produced and performed One Size Fits All (shortlisted for the Funny Women Shorts Award). YouTube: - Twitter: @LucyTrodd - Insta: @LTrodd

Heather Urquhart trained in physical theatre & studied improvisation at I.O Chicago. She improvises with The Maydays, 10,000 Million Love Stories & has written a book on musical improv. She is winner of the award for best female performer in the Brighton Fringe Festival and a vocalist with Mercury Music Prize nominated Electric Soft Parade.

Musical Supervisor: Duncan Walsh Atkins has been musical supervisor for The Showstoppers since 2009. His other improvisation credits include the BBC TV series Fast & Loose and appearances with Mike McShane and Paul Merton. He also coaches musical theatre-based improvisation at classes and workshops around the UK.

Creative Team

Artistic Directors – Adam Meggido & Dylan Emery

Movement Director – Ali James

Set Designer – Simon Scullion

Costume & Props Designer – Gabriella Slade

Lighting Designer – Damian Robertson

Head of Sound – Oscar Thompson for Show Works Ltd

General Managers – Something for the Weekend

Producers – Keith Strachan, Adam Meggido & Dylan Emery

📸 Professional photos: Ray Burniston


REVIEW - Showstopper! The Improvised Musical (Musical Theatre, improv, Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2023)

🎟️ Disclosure: I am an Edinburgh Festival Fringe accredited media reviewer and as such I receive complimentary press tickets in exchange for my honest reviews. My reviews and star ratings are always my honest opinions.

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💗 To see more pictures and watch my videos follow @Lisa_InTheTheatre on Instagram

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