Showstopper: The Improvised Musical on at Wycombe Swan

Do you love a good laugh or go mad for a musical? Here’s a show tailor-made for you.

The Showstopper cast blend audience suggestions to create a show from scratch at every performance, mixing comedy, drama, music theatre and lightning quick creative thinking.

You may have seen improvised comedy, or recall Josie Lawrence hitting the high notes in TV improv hit Whose Line Is It Anyway?, but this show takes things to a whole new level.

Ruth Bratt, a seasoned performer with the company, explained more.

“Showstoppers started 12 years ago and was a group of people working with Ken Campbell [the legendary performer, comic and director]. They got a group of people and worked out how to improvise a musical. I was involved since near the beginning.

“Dylan [Emery, co-founder] of the show kept asking and I was saying I can’t do it because I was busy. One day I picked up the phone when I was in New York, and I never pick up the phone abroad, I don’t know why I did. Just to get him off the phone I said yes.”

But Ruth swiftly fell in love it.

“It’s a brilliant idea. We weren’t your average musical theatre performers. It’s been really great how it’s grown. It started, in a theatre above a pub, now we’re in West End runs.”

They won an Olivier Award for their West End debut in 2016 and have now have five West End seasons under their belts.

Time Out Critic’s Choice described it as “Achingly funny... worth seeing again and again.”

The troupe’s first Edinburgh Fringe was at a 70-seater venue in 2009, ten years later they were selling out at the Pleasance Grand, which seats 750.

“Though we could hear the Tattoo fireworks so most of the shows ended with some kind of war zone as we couldn’t ignore it.”

Ruth assured me that the show is genuinely unique every night. The cast come forward and get some suggestions and then the audience votes on the scenario, the style and the title. At the interval there are fresh suggestions on what happens next.

“There’s no way we could plan it,” she said.

“We tend to avoid political because people are there to have a nice, fun time but the audience tends to be self censoring, they groan if someone suggests, say, Brexit.

“We did do one set at a purity camp. The most memorable was inside a pickle jar, we did one set on a Monopoly board which was brilliant, but we don’t have to always be inside things or on things,” she laughed.

As well as a large pool of actors, there are live musicians on stage, watching the actors and improvising a score.

“I don’t know how they do it,” says Ruth.

“There will be two, three or four musicians, one will watch pianist’s hands. We always have keys and percussion, sometimes reeds and fiddle, cajon drum...”

Ruth, who grew up in Kent, works on other projects between runs of the musical and has been seen in Ricky Gervais’s comedy drama Derek, Sarah Millican’s Support Group and Vic Reeves’ The Ministry Of Curious Stuff.

She also played Roche, girlfriend of DJ Beats in BBC3's People Just Do Nothing

Ruth is looking forward to returning to the Wycombe Swan where she performed early on in her career, often in murder mysteries.

Performing with The Showstoppers has taught her a lot, she said, “We could all sing, all could move a bit but now – over 1,000 musicals later– our voices are a lot stronger and we’re now much better at dancing.

“It’s been quite the trip. I found myself in one show with Sean McCann, we were going around being big dinosaurs and he whispered to me – we’re adults!”

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