Showstopper! – Review – York Theatre Royal

Showstopper! – Review – York Theatre Royal (1)

By Roger Crow, May 2024

I think we’re all agreed that Four Candles is one of the funniest TV sketches of all time. The Two Ronnies’ unforgettable rib-tickler, penned by Ronnie Barker, was first broadcast in 1976, and had been making millions chuckle ever since.

Though in the alt-universe of Showstopper!, back in 1964, it was already a thing apparently. We’re in a BBC writers’ room where desperate writers attempt to come up with something funnier than said sketch, thanks to one member of the audience shouting out, “I’ve only got 10 candles.” It was a child’s 11th birthday recently, hence the abstract nature of the title. But that’s the joy of Showstopper! Like Whose Line Is It Anyway, this ad-libbed musical in the style of Chicago, Beyonce or Sondheim for example, is always fresh and never boring.

Showstopper! – Review – York Theatre Royal (2)

“Psychic link”

I was first won over by the format in 2017 during a stay at a posh hotel in Harrogate, and every couple of years I feel the urge to return to the show. One of the driving forces throughout all the productions has been Pippa Evans, who inherited Josie Lawrence’s crown as the queen of ad-lib comedy. Some people just have funny bones, and she’s one of them, slipping into song; coming out with brilliant one-liners, and generally keeping the show in a forward direction, no matter how many times there’s a danger of it de-railing. And there’s the odd moment when you think the cast are never going to adapt a song out of thin air in the style of Shrek the Musical with two seconds’ notice, but that adrenaline rush, some quick thinking and years of practice ensure they pull it off every time.

Every member of the team is on top form this evening, and as the gags come thick and fast, part of me yearns to see how they do it. Maybe there’s a backstage whiteboard with all the key elements listed that they refer to, or maybe there’s some psychic link between performers at the top of their game. Who knows? I do know that it’s still one of the best ad-libbed comedy shows on the UK circuit, and every time I see it, Showstopper! does not disappoint.

Showstopper! – Review – York Theatre Royal (3)

“Insanely talented”

Despite that show title being on the board throughout the production, when the pay-off finally comes and the cast perform a song with the inevitable lyric ‘I’ve only got 10 candles’, it’s like the punchline at the end of one of Ronnie Corbett’s rambling gags. Hugely satisfying.

And the USP of course is every show is different, so as I walk out of the theatre thinking that final song was better than most Lloyd Webber offerings, I feel it’s a shame that we’ll never see a full run of ‘I’ve only got 10 candles’. And yes, there may be only 10, but they brighten up the theatre for the duration, the gags never get on my wick, and I could wax lyrical about Ms Evans and her insanely talented colleagues all day.

Do yourself a favour and track down the next show as soon as possible, especially if it’s your first time. And if it is, chances are it won’t be the last. I’m already looking forward to a fifth helping. They really are that good.

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical is at York Theatre Royal until 30th May, then continues touring
images: Ray Burmiston


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