Theatre Review: The Showstoppers - The London Jam at Park Theatre ✭✭✭✭

The Showstoppers
The London Jam at Park Theatre
Review by Duncan Brown

Thursday 23rd January 2014: This was my second visit and third show of the week at the wonderful Park Theatre in Finsbury Park as part of The London Jam, a week-long festival of impro.

This was the second time I have seen The Showstoppers in action, although previously it was at a recording session for BBC radio 4, so it was great to see them with full on staging and choreography with an imaginative use of a stock of props, costumes and set.

This is obviously a company who are very used to working collaboratively as individuals would ably switch between leading a chorus line and creating characters such as Big Chris, the squid which spoke as one almost telepathically. It's not surprising that Oliver Senton, for example, has appeared in over 200 Showstoppers performances.

The evening was introduced in style by Dylan Emery, one of the co-founders, encouraging the audience to shout out locations, show titles and styles of songs and then steering the action throughout the hour long impro. Consequently "Salmonella"- the musical, set in a fish hatchery laboratory was born (hatched?) with input from West Side Story, The Book of Mormon and The Lion King.

The eight strong company, with superb support from Musical Director Duncan Walsh Atkins and his band, then introduced us to Sam 'n' Ella, (get it?) our romantic leads in the rousing "Life is dawning, fish are spawning" opening number. Ruth Bratt and Andrew Pugsley were constantly inventive leads with beautiful voices; at times comedic, at others surprisingly touching.

What followed was a very surreal adventure featuring the aforementioned squid incident via a traditional Scottish folksong, sung a cappella, to a recitation in the style of Byron, then de Sade by Oliver Senton, to the West Side Story inspired "There's a Sea Somewhere" complete with pas de deux by the hugely talented and London Jam founder Adam Meggido and Nell Mooney, only to be up-staged by Sean McCann and Phillip Pellew.

A highlight of the evening was surely the Showstopper version of The Book of Mormon's "Hasa Diga Ebowai", here translated into Scottish as "Go boil yer hid" (Go forth and conquer) as suggested by my guest.

This brings up one of the most debated things with impro, namely, is it actually all improvised? When a company is as impressive as The Showstoppers it is hardly surprising and this is addressed in their programme with a list of regular conspiracy theories about how they do the show. I have asked myself this question on more than one occasion this week and have concluded that when a company is this talented and experienced it really is possible to be fully improvised. Congratulations on a great nights entertainment. Highly recommended.

A mention must be made of the theatre itself, which opened in May 2013. It has a warm, convivial atmosphere with an eclectic decor and tasty, good value, well presented food from its all day cafe/bar. I imagine it's a vibrant place to hang out at any time of the day. I was slightly confused by the box office set up but actually being able to get tickets from any till is not a bad idea once you know about it.

The main 200 seat auditorium reminds me of the Donmar with the same intimacy and proximity to the stage. It also has a 90 seat studio theatre.