A genuinely fun and charming show from the seasoned Showstoppers that, despite a couple of odd elements, proved to be yet another success for the society.
Showstoppers, our resident musical theatre society, is having a stellar year of outstanding productions, and the highly anticipated Curtains – which was performed in the Annex Theatre on campus last week – was no exception. This lively, fourth wall breaking comedy murder mystery revels in being a love letter to theatre in all its forms.
The show bounced along with a wonderful amount of energy and enthusiasm from all involved. Despite a somewhat quiet and lethargic start in the first couple of scenes (most likely attributed to the fact they were halfway through their run when I went to see them, and completely understandable as a consequence), things soon hit a high gear as they hit every story beat and twist with aplomb. The cast rose admirably to the challenge of pulling off some wonderful ‘bad acting’ performances during the ‘onstage’ sections (certainly a difficult thing to do well), which were often particularly amusing and provided a distinct difference to the well-rounded and developed performances the cast gave ‘offstage’. As ever with a Showstoppers show, the quality of singing across the board was amazing (with particular praise to Victoria Howard, Lydia Edge, Jamie Martin and Josh Vaatstra). There was some genuinely spectacular and creative choreography from first-time choreographer Annabelle Williams, proving her to be a production team talent to watch. Indeed, many of the cast pulled off some astounding performances in general, such as the aforementioned Edge and Martin, Xafsa Mohamud as a wonderfully acerbic stage manager, Mark Strong as a cutting critic, Anand Sankar as a hilariously flamboyant director – and, in particular Josh Vaatstra, whose genuinely outstanding performance as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi was full of witty naturalism and was a real stand-out.
However, in terms of performance, the comic timing on some of the funnier bits was occasionally lost; while many of the performers did this well (again, Vaatstra, Sankar, Edge, Naida Allen and Phoebe Armstrong come to mind, although there were many others), some of the funniest lines were lost. Some tended to rush their lines and avoided leaning into the joke, which was somewhat unfortunate. The ensemble was used well, although there was a notable disparity between the females and males, with the former being of a noticeable higher and stronger standard. This left some routines out of sync, especially in the offstage sections (although, this can probably be attributed to understandable lethargy!). There was also a tendency to ‘over-emote’ in the offstage parts, often loudly over the speaking roles, and then ‘under-emote’ to level of not really reacting during the onstage parts. Saying that, this was only a minor flaw.
The fourth wall breaking by the team was consistently well constructed, leading to several instances of hilarious band cameos (from musical director Megan Hilling and AMD Ben McQuigg, both of whom led an excellent band brilliantly as well), along with some carefully deployed instances of ‘the house lights’ and generally brilliant uses of lighting and sound. This also led to a nice in-joke with the back projection, which was used as the production’s primary staging. The decision to use such a minimalist set was a brave one for a Showstoppers show, but for the most part it worked very well, with the back projection often adding an artificiality to the proceedings that worked well for the play-within-a-play structure. However, the set props were often underused (only really being used for one of the early scenes). Additionally, it could have been nice to see the back projection built up further with the use of additional props (such as those seen in the first onstage scene, which did admittedly reappear at the very end) to add to the backstage/rehearsal room feel. Arguably, the back projection was occasionally over-used (especially considering it has been used as a substantial staging choice in 3 out of 4 of the last Southampton Showstoppers shows) and felt a bit disorientating, but this is again, a minor flaw, as it was used very well for the most part and did win me over.
The directing from Andy Banks and Charlie Taylor was stellar, well-thought out and bravely unconventional for a musical (which was wonderful to see pulled off). Though some of the crowd scenes could have done with slightly more blocking as a lot of the actors seemed a bit cluttered, nearly every other directional decision was very inventive. All in all, Curtains was a wonderful and uproarious show, and everyone involved should be highly praised for their roles. Bring on the next one!
Showstoppers’ next show is Follies, which is at the Annex Theatre from 26th to 29th April.