Showstopper! The Improvised, Socially Distanced Online Musical – Q&A With Ali James

screenshot of four actors wearing red, black, and white, all separated and filmed by different cameras but edited together to look as though they're standing next to each other

This time last year, the words ‘social distancing’ would have had no place whatsoever in our vocabulary. Fast forward to July 2020, and the news that The Showstoppers would be performing a socially distanced improvised musical was enough to make my stagey heart sing for the first time in months.

So many of us are badly missing theatre and feeling somewhat helpless about the devastating challenges the arts industry is going through. However, if the creatives in this area are one thing, they’re resilient… and Showstopper’s efforts to produce a remote, socially distanced musical to be streamed to audiences at home is a prime example of that. Based entirely on audience suggestions being communicated via YouTube’s online chat feature, the talented cast and crew improvised an entire hour-long musical, complete with storylines, punchy humour and even live music from the band. Tickets were incredibly affordable, with standard and concession prices available, and in my opinion, provided excellent value for money.

screenshot of showstopper livestream on youtube, showing one male performer and chat box of audience members making suggestions for what happens next

I’ve been a fan of The Showstoppers for a long time now, and I’ve been lucky enough to physically attend a fair few shows of theirs over the years. The company’s ability to improvise so seamlessly and with such humour blows my mind every single time, and I’m thrilled to say that July’s online offering packed just as much punch as any other of their performances. This particular show found itself set in a mysterious bookshop, encapsulating complex relationship dynamics between members of the book club, an enigmatic poem that shrouds the characters in mystery, and a deceased father who wears a hat to disguise his lack of personality. Songs were also improvised in the style of Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton, Beetlejuice and more, and a personal highlight was Justin Brett emotively belting out “READ FOR MEEEEEE” in honour of the Phantom of the Opera, which genuinely had me belly laughing from my sofa.

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Accessible Theatre Performances in Yorkshire – Festive Guide 2019

theatre programmes and tickets laid on floor, with green sunflower lanyard draped over the top

To me, there seems no more fitting time of the year to enjoy theatre than during the festive season. Whether you’re a regular theatregoer or not, there’s just something that feels so special about bringing your loved ones together, getting dressed up and perhaps going for a bite to eat, and then heading off to see a show.

And what’s crucial here is that theatre should be an experience that everybody gets to enjoy, including those with additional needs. We still have such a long way to go in helping regional theatres to become as inclusive as possible, but it’s incredibly heartwarming to see the progress that’s being made over time.

With that in mind, this year I’ve decided to compile a quick festive Access Guide of sorts, detailing inclusive performances for various productions in the leading theatres across Yorkshire, over the Christmas period. If you’re in the area and looking for some entertainment over the holidays, I hope the following information is helpful!

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Blood Brothers UK Tour – Grand Opera House York

on stage group image of full cast, mrs johnstone kneeling on floor between bodies of two brothers with cast stood behind her
Image Credits: Blood Brothers UK (Press)

[GIFTED] Press tickets #gifted by Grand Opera House York in exchange for review. You can catch Blood Brothers at Grand Opera House York until Saturday 2nd November, before it continues on to other venues around the UK. If you enjoy this post, you may like my other chronic illness-friendly reviews too!

Expectations: 4/5

Reality: 5/5

Chronic Illness-Friendly: 2/5

Blood Brothers has always had a place in my heart. From playing various roles myself and critically analysing the production for my GCSE drama exam, to appreciating the show on a much deeper level as I’ve aged and matured as an audience member, I firmly believe that Willy Russell’s musical is one of the all-time greats. As a production, it is utterly incomparable to any other show I’ve seen.

The performance begins with a glimpse into the devastating final scene, two bodies being mournfully covered up and carried away by policemen, before the onlooking Narrator sombrely addresses the audience and takes us right back to the beginning of the story: the story of a mother, Mrs Johnstone, coerced into giving one of her twin sons away to Mrs Lyons, the childless housewife who employs her as a cleaner.

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Six The Musical at the Arts Theatre London

six queens posed together on stage with microphones
Images by Idil Sulkan

Expectations: 5/5

Reality: 5/5

Chronic illness friendly: 3/5

Cast your minds back to West End Live 2018, when six females stood behind their microphones on that stage and turned a relatively unheard of new musical into an overnight sensation. A mere four months later, and Six The Musical’s made its West End transfer, SOLD OUT the venue, and promised devoted fans a return following their upcoming UK tour. Not too shabby, right?

I’d been following the musical with interest ever since that West End Live performance, and I’d made my peace with the fact that I was unlikely to catch their run in London this year before they moved on. Making a six-hour round trip for a 75 minute show just wasn’t feasible for me… or so I thought, until the cast recording dropped on Spotify and I found myself booking train tickets the very next day.

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