Normally it’s our house style at Playstosee.com to try and keep a review as much in the present tense as possible. After all, you might well want to go and see the show, and that’s how you’d experience it.
Well, I’m afraid if you weren’t in the audience at The Other Palace last night you will never again have the opportunity of experiencing, as I did, the face-achingly funny mini-masterpiece that was Cream of Yorkshire…a title so redolent of recent West End offerings that it could quite easily have been an alternative musical based on Calendar Girls.
This show, however, by the enormously talented team of improvisers that make up Showstopper! was set in a soup kitchen in 1882, and concerned illicit love between the classes. Between the people responsible for making the soup, and them up in’t big house.
The way that Showstopper! operates – and has operated so successfully since 2008, this was their 1000th completely new improvised musical – goes like this.
We start with a generically empty stage and a band. Dylan Emery (who along with Adam Meggido created the concept) asks the audience for suggestions of musical styles which he writes on long strips of black cardboard and displays on a board on stage.
I can attest that the choice really is the audiences own. Last night we had, amongst others, suggestions for songs in the style of Oklahoma, Cabaret, and Rocky Horror.
Emery then asks the audience for a setting for the show. Various suggestions are made, and the audience cheers for the one they like the best. Last night’s winner was ‘a soup kitchen in Yorkshire in 1882’.
Having got that far, Emery asked for titles. There were offerings of varying quality and humour (Jesus Christ, Souperstar was one I liked) but the winner, via the loudest audience cheer was Cream of Yorkshire.
And that was it. Off they went. Every musical need an opening number, so the cast gave us one in the form of a song which not only introduced the characters but also saw them make the soup which was eventually to hold the show together.
As someone who’s spent the best part of the past thirty years, if not more, writing musicals in his spare time, I don’t mind admitting that it was particularly galling to see a cast with no script, no rehearsal, and only the most rudimentary of staging, create an opening number better than those I’ve often had to sit through when reviewing fully written and rehearsed shows. And that’s how the show continued with only the occasional intervention from Emery sitting at the side of the stage and every now and again asking the audience what form the next song should take. The love song about soup in the style of Singin’ in the Rain was a particular favourite of mine.
Somehow the cast managed to contrive a genuine cliff-hanger at the end of Act One, via a prayer scene in church in the style of The Rocky Horror Show, during which the local vicar (Adam Meggido, Showstopper!’s co-creator) exposed the illicit inter-class love affair between a married woman and a member of the local aristocracy who’d ‘gone native’, and as the act concluded we were asked to send suggestions for the Act Two opener by Twitter.
Act Two included some touching, if not to say poignant moments from Adam Meggido as the proprietor of the soup kitchen, and his cuckolded son, played by Justin Brett, and finished with a rousing chorus that I can still remember twenty-four hours later, again in the soup kitchen, ‘One ladle or two?’.
Showstopper! is a marvel. Genuinely unique entertainment and I urge you to go see it and, who knows, maybe even make some suggestions of your own.