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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CRYSTAL – Cirque Du Soleil’s Breakthrough Ice Experience


performer hanging from trapeze by his feet, holding onto one leg of female performer hanging beneath him and bringing other leg up to head
Image Credits: Matt Beard

[AD – Press]. Complimentary tickets in exchange for review.

Before we say anything else, it’s worth acknowledging that attending Cirque du Soleil’s latest production as press is something still almost incomprehensible to me. Having grown up with a love and appreciation for Cirque right at the core of my being, and finally being able to see my first full production in 2017, it’s genuinely mind-boggling to believe that this is where we are, three years later. Cirque holds such a special place in my heart, and I truly believe they’re one of the finest artistic establishments on this planet.

Each of Cirque’s productions are unique in their own right, but from the get-go, it was clear that CRYSTAL, a performance shaped around the artistic possibilities of ice, would be something completely bespoke. Combining skating, acrobatics, comedy and movement, as well as dazzling visual projections and an original score of music, this particular show ventures into previously undiscovered artistic territory, and it’s safe to say the company really made the most of it.

on screen projection of red-haired character Crustal, tumbling through ice
Image Credits: Matt Beard

The story puts the audience in the shoes of title character Crystal, a quirky and imaginative young woman who feels at odds with the world around her. In frustration on a particularly difficult day, she ventures out onto thin ice and finds herself falling underneath the surface, sinking into an upside-down world. Here, she’s able to interact with Crystal’s Reflection, her inner self, who shows her how to harness her frustrations and turn them into creative energy; Crystal is handed a pen and left to see where her mind takes her.

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Come From Away West End – Phoenix Theatre, London

pippa sat on chair, holding up blue come from away programme and smiling

Expectations: 4/5

Reality: 4.5/5

Chronic Illness-Friendly: 3/5

[#GIFTED] Thank you so much to the team at Official London Theatre for arranging this trip in return for a piece all about our experiences from a chronic illness-perspective, which you can find here!

Seeing Come From Away was without a doubt one of my theatre highlights of the year. Utterly incomparable to anything else I’ve seen, the story takes place following the devastating 9/11 terrorist attacks, as the North American airspace is forced to close. The passengers aboard airplanes at the time of the incident find themselves emergency landing and then stranded in Gander: a small island off the East Coast of Canada, with no way of moving on or continuing their journeys until it’s once again deemed safe to fly.

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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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