Laughter Lines: Ali James Discusses Showstopper! The Improvised Musical At Swansea Grand Theatre

The critically acclaimed improvisational front runner Showstopper! The Improvised Musical comes to the Grand Theatre in Swansea on 8th November.

Following on from their sell out run at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2018, and with a 2016 Olivier Award for their West End debut at the Apollo Theatre, The Showstoppers are set to make the end of 2019 and the start of the next decade even better, one new musical at a time.

No two nights are ever the same as The Showstoppers take audience suggestions and then spin a brand-new comedy musical out of thin air – stories, characters, tunes, lyrics, dances, harmonies and all – with unpredictable and hilarious results. If you’ve thought improv looked difficult before, try doing it in time (and tune) to music!

Having grown since 2008 to become the UK’s most acclaimed and in-demand musical improvisers, The Showstoppers have become a must-see staple of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. With five West End seasons and an acclaimed BBC Radio 4 series to their name, they have also taken their ingenious blend of comedy, musical theatre and spontaneity around the globe, picking up accolades and awards.

Andy Howells recently put questions to Ali James about the show.

How did Showstopper come about?

Showstopper started in a small porta cabin at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2008, inspired by the work of Ken Campbell some friends got together to make a new improv show. It now plays to huge audiences every night of the Fringe at the Pleasance Grand and is the only ever improvised musical to have a run in the West End. What an amazing (ongoing) journey! We’re very grateful to our audiences and supporters!

What type of audience and age range would enjoy the show?

Showstopper is a full musical but has something for anyone who enjoys theatre; a great story and characters you care about alongside amazing singing and dancing all inspired from the audience’s suggestions. We suggest 12+ for our evening show but also do a Showstopper Kids Show that audience members as young as 3 can enjoy and even participate in!

I imagine the world of improvisation on the live stage can be both fun and dangerous – how do you all psyche yourselves up for a show?

We play lots of warm up games and do a good physical and vocal warm up. It’s important we stay connected and aware of all offers that can be made in the flurry of making up a West End musical on the spot! We consistently work on building our group dynamics and have a different team every show!

I know you’ve visited Wales with the show before, do you have to research the area your visiting for cultural references that might pop up in impro?

It helps to have a bit of knowledge. Usually anything we don’t know our audiences are happy to tell us. They equally enjoy seeing if we can get as close as we can to something we don’t know about their town! It’s all great fun for them!

Have you ever had a really good idea for a musical crop up at a show that you thought – “we could do something with this?”

Lots of our company write musicals outside Showstopper. Inspiring ideas are always popping up onstage; a beautiful setting, theme or relationship can send our imaginations spiralling off to create great written pieces alongside our improvisation.

What has been the most unusual Showstopper routine your team have come up with?

When we play warm up games for connection, we often wonder what people would think if they walked into a room where there were 7 or 8 grown adults pretending to be one big Cathedral, speaking in one person’s voice together or throwing imaginary sticks at each other. It’s either a cult or a lot of love for our team.

What’s the funniest experience you’ve had at one of the shows?

Sometimes justifications of things you’re not expecting can be hilarious, like when someone names the scene as an indoor location that cannot include a certain character so the person who “shouldn’t” have been there justify it by creating an imaginary window pane and being outside in the snow, or  any audience suggestion that seems too difficult at the time and then a Showstopper knocks it out of the park with quick wit and skill! The audience love to see us in trouble and then get out of it! It’s the tightrope of improvisation.

Any advice to anyone coming to the Swansea show that can prepare them for Showstopper?

Get some great suggestions for a setting ready, think of your favourite musicals and hold tight for a night of belly laughter and enjoyment.

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