I’ve reviewed the Showstoppers improvised musical show twice and also seen it as an audience member, so I was intrigued to see the kids version. Needless to say, not only was it every bit as inventive and entertaining as the original, it also greatly benefitted from the off the wall suggestions that only kids can come up with. Surely few adult audiences would have suggested a story about a coconut called Jeff who lives inside a chicken and battles with a marauding group of the Queen’s corgis before meeting a friendly worm…
It was clear we were in safe hands from the moment we arrived and found the cast improvising songs about what the audience were wearing. Wearing colourful dungarees and against a bright backcloth, there were 5 actors and two musicians ready to interpret the suggestions from the children attending. It was overwhelmingly a local audience too – as shown when an impromptu vote about how to pronounce ‘scone’ resulted in a unanimous result for the Scottish version.
No complicated backstory here, just an invitation to suggest the components of the story the audience would like to see portrayed. The setting came first, with suggestions varying from a jungle to a wrestling ring, but from the moment one child suggested it should all take place inside a chicken, there was no doubt how the vote would go.
Superb work followed from the whole cast, backed up by quickfire musicians and a real-time lighting designer, including such immortal numbers as “Life is great inside a chicken, It’s finger-licking good, Life is great inside a chicken, It’s my neighbourhood.” A central character was then called for and the coconut was suggested, named Jeff, and quickly became totally real to all in the audience. Suggestions become ever more bizarre when the audience was asked what happened when Jeff’s Mum picked up a sock. The answer, of course, was that a piano fell on her – an event immediately and satisfyingly portrayed with the aid of a large cardboard box and a quick change of sound from the keyboard.
Once the audience called for a pack of marauding corgis led by the Queen, the younger members of the audience entered the action, filling the stage by invitation and singing along as they showed us how frightening they could be: the answer, not very…. By the time Jeff the coconut had stolen sweets from the audience and been very sick, an audience member suggested that the chicken then drank coconut milk from her own stomach. Adult audience members looked aghast but no problem, the showstoppers troupe had a handy cutout of a straw and proceeded to make it happen.
This show, unlike so many aimed at children, was absolutely on their wavelength but also totally respectful of them and their suggestions – there was no leading or influencing by adults: whatever the kids wanted, that was what they got. Towards the end we discovered that the chicken really wanted to be a worm, and the whole audience turned into worms wriggling on a compost heap as the cast exhorted us to “Be the worm who turns.” There was even a moral to the story, with the children insisting that Jeff should say sorry to the worm.
After a reprise of the songs – including getting the whole corgi gang back on stage – the audience were invited to meet the cast and spend time drawing on large sheets of paper laid on the stage. This was a magical experience, totally good-natured, respectful and inventive, and without any doubt worthy of revisiting – not to be missed!