Tag Archives: Geraint Lewis

Showstoppers

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

★★★★

Garrick Theatre

Showstoppers

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

Garrick Theatre

Reviewed – 7th December 2020

★★★★

 

“showcases impeccable talent, commitment and a glorious sense of humour”

 

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical uses audience suggestion to create a new musical every single night. This makes for a difficult review, as despite last night’s ‘A Change of Direction’, a piece about ‘out of work’ actors finding performances in their day to day lives, being brilliant, it will never be seen again. That being said, it is clear that there is an envious amount of talent on stage; from the musicians, who improvise each song and manage to keep in tempo and melody with the actors, to the actors themselves, who pull off such an impressive range, they truly blow you away.

Entering the theatre after the UK’s second lockdown would have been a treat enough, but Oscar Thompson (sound designer) collated an uplifting array of musical theatre anthems and the audience, despite being socially distanced, is immediately uplifted and ready to have some fun. On the front of the stage there is a large, branded banner, asking audience members to text in ideas for what the musical could be about tonight, as well as favourite musicals that they’d like the cast to style their improvisation to. With a ring of a red phone that lights up centre stage, it’s clear we’re ready to begin.

From the outset of the show, when an unnamed person (performed by Dylan Emery) answers the phone to a mysterious producer, the humour in the show is set alight. Emery announces that he is delighted to be finally asked to put on a musical after such a long period of ‘theatre drought’ and comically says that he will have it ready in 75 minutes without a problem. Emery’s intelligent and relevant humour works beautifully as he effortlessly engages with the audience throughout the show. He begins reading out the audience’s suggestions; what they have texted into him for musical ideas and themes. When the audience has decided (through cheering for their favourite title) the improvisation begins.

A standout performance was given by Justin Brett, whose charm and charisma was effervescent. However, an astounding level of skill was displayed by each person on the stage. The actors and musicians transition with ease between operatic numbers in the style of Phantom of The Opera, to making up rap on the spot so that they might imitate Hamilton. This show is particularly brilliant if you’re musical theatre knowledge is expert; if you know the stylings of Sondheim, to the opposite on the spectrum SIX, each impression is faultless. I worry that this might have been lost on first time musical theatre goers, but the cast and band’s ability would be impressive still. A highlight in the show occurred when the actors didn’t in fact get everything perfect; their panicked stares as it became clear they were running out of things to say was embraced by the other cast members and was celebrated with hilarity.

At various moments throughout the show, Emery will suddenly stand, freezing the cast and announcing a development he’d like to enforce (usually taken from the most outrageous message he’d received in from the audience) to ensure that the cast are keeping to a story arc and structure. This works perfectly should the cast begin to go off subject or reach a dead end in their improvisation. The only criticism I would have is that the cast on occasion don’t fully listen to Emery’s direction and so there is a tendency to labour the point a little, but perhaps they were buying themselves time to think in response to one of Emery’s daring requests!

All in all, this musical showcases impeccable talent, commitment and a glorious sense of humour. It was clear that no one on the stage was taking themselves too seriously, which is hugely welcome by a world starved of live entertainment.

 

Reviewed by Mimi Monteith

Photography by Geraint Lewis

 


Showstoppers! The Improvised Musical

Garrick Theatre – various dates until March 2021

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Brainiac Live! | ★★★★ | August 2019
Rip It Up – The 60s | ★★★ | February 2019
Bitter Wheat | ★★★★ | June 2019
Noises Off | ★★★★ | October 2019
Potted Panto | ★★★ | December 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

POTTED PANTO

Potted Panto

★★★

Garrick Theatre

Potted Panto

Potted Panto

Garrick Theatre

Reviewed – 6th December 2020

★★★

 

“There are quite a few pandemic jokes, and also pee and vomit jokes for all the boys in the audience—rapturously received”

 

Potted Panto, written by Daniel Clarkson, Jefferson Turner and Richard Hurst, is up at the Garrick Theatre in London’s West End this year. It premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010, and then transferred to London’s Vaudeville Theatre to much acclaim. It’s a lively two hander, directed by Hurst and starring Clarkson and Turner, with some additional help from the backstage crew. From the brilliant back and forth banter of the two leading men, to the suggestions of a set and quick change costumes, it is easy to imagine these actors barnstorming any variety show over the last one hundred years or so.

But traditional pantomime, this is not. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen to that. Audience and actor safety means that large casts have been mothballed, and performers socially distanced for the time being. Potted Panto’s small cast means less risk to the actors and audiences, though whether the Garrick Theatre, with its cramped nineteenth century proportions, is the ideal space, remains to be seen. Potted Panto’s approach doesn’t impact the number of characters, however. It keeps the title characters, while adding others in ways that are certainly creative, but distracting. (Abanazar Scrooge?) Prince Charming survives—although he turns up, and turns out, to be the same character whether he’s in Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella, or The Christmas Carol.

Panto needs a good plot, however, and Potted Panto’s overarching plot, for all the cleverness of the writing, is slender. It’s basically about two actors who want to do as many pantos as they can in seventy minutes. There’s a lot of comic material deftly presented as Clarkson and Turner go back and forth about what constitutes a genuine panto. (Spoiler alert: Sleeping Beauty counts, the Queen’s Christmas speech does not.) But because there are really only two performers, the actors have to do a lot of work arounds with the stories of the pantos that do make the list. Mostly these consist of exposition, and a lot of physical exercise, particularly on the part of Jefferson Turner, as he rushes on and off stage, changing costumes on the fly.

Potted Panto does have a lot of crowd pleasing moments. Adults, in particular, will enjoy the references to contemporary politics. To Clarkson, Turner and Hurst, Dick Whittington is really about a journalist who becomes Mayor of London and then prime minister, and a dishevelled blond wig is used to marvellous effect. There are quite a few pandemic jokes, and also pee and vomit jokes for all the boys in the audience—rapturously received. Clarkson and Turner are at ease with their audience, even when the response is a bit unexpected. The
actors make the most of opportunities to get audiences on their feet shouting “Oh no, he isn’t” and singing along. The handling of audience participation was particularly inspired as Turner picked on a good sport in the audience to be Prince Charming’s true love, and then just ran with it. (Hint: Cinderella is in for a bit of a shock.)

When all’s said and done with this seasonal offering, Potted Panto is likely to please adults more than the kids. There’s always some adult entertainment in even the most child friendly panto, of course, but Potted Panto edges more in the direction of the grown ups. Enjoy at your own risk.

 

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Geraint Lewis

 

Potted Panto

 

Garrick Theatre until 10th January

 

Previously reviewed at the venue:
Brainiac Live! | ★★★★ | August 2019
Rip It Up – The 60s | ★★★ | February 2019
Bitter Wheat | ★★★★ | June 2019
Noises Off | ★★★★ | October 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews