Review: Showstoppers’ Mr. Grin

Showstoppers’ latest comedy-musical was simply unmissable

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The Annex Theatre, Southampton, 17th of May, 2018

Actors left to right: Charlie Randall, Darius Timmerman, Xafsa Mohamud, Sam Rowley, Ellen O'Mahony. Photograph: Jacob Power

On arrival, I noticed that the set of Mr. Grin was minimalistic in nature to other Showstopper productions that I had previously seen. It soon became clear to me that this was in fact, fitting, as the production was rich without backdrops or tons of props.

The first character introduced to us was 'Hector' played by James Lister, who was perched on a bench in striped pyjamas. The first few moments of the production did not fit my expectations of a comedy-musical, but this serious tone added to the dry humour that followed, and on reflection was incredibly apt.

A microcosm of society emerged on the stage, including the responsible and maternal 'Jennifer' played by Xafsa Mohamud and the 'chav' archetype, 'Danny' played by Darius Timmerman. We were introduced to the brilliantly innocent 'Jobe' and 'Blossom' played by Sam Rowley and Ellen O'Mahony and immediately occurred to me that the purity of their characters really enhanced the production, as the writing was dry, two wholesome characters fit in the narrative very well. These characters were the tenants of the building, in which the mysterious Mr. Grin lives, who no one had ever met. 'Arthur Pump' the lift attendant, played by Charlie Randall expressed how he had never been to Mr. Grin's floor, and this created an exposition in the narrative, as it became clear that this is what the action in the production will revolve around, and caused me to wonder who is Mr. Grin? Where is he? What will this mean for the narrative? Why do the tenants feel the need to meet him?

The lighting behind the cast emulated a lift and this was innovative and attractive, I appreciate how they employed this instead of a cardboard or canvas lift. The singing throughout the production was strong and the harmonies were seamless, this production was equally a musical as it was a comedy, and the title of comedy-musical seemed relevant quite soon on in the production, as both comedy and musical conventions were employed, it did not feel unbalanced.

I relished the puns and humour throughout the show which was often delivered by 'Blossom' played by Ellen O'Mahony and 'Jobe' played by Sam Rowley due to the innocence of their characters, and a particular sketch that caught my attention was the restaurant sketch in which the cast sang "Amore!", which was accompanied by French themed music by the band. The band were triumphant and enhanced the production throughout, with their comedic timing, particularly alongside the character, Gene String played by James Lister, as music played each time he scuttled on stage in his white dungarees with a tin of beans, he could be seen as the glue of the narrative. He reminded me that this was a comedy musical in the less comedic, and more serious moments of the production, as he instilled childlike humour.

Many aspects of the technological side of the production were imaginative, such as when a briefcase was suspended in the air, it is clear to me that the directors wanted to use techniques like this for spectacle, possibly because of the lack of backdrops, it was effective.

'Spiny Dave' played by James Adams with an energetic performance, his energy radiated, and his singing was strong too.

Anand Sankar had an array of roles such as 'Amos Pump', 'Shiny Dave', 'Mick Nickel' and 'Monty Grid', which lead me to question is there an accent that he cannot do? He most certainly stood out as one of the more influential characters in the narrative and one that embodied the comedy aspect of the production.

The personal highlight of the production for me was the scene in which Arthur Pump or rather Charlie Randall, makes love to the lift. His singing and acting was superb and the puns like "floorplay" and wanting to "get dirty on so many levels" are memorable to say the least, something about Randall's performance reminded me of La La Land (2016), perhaps it's the class he was oozing as he sung and danced that made me think of the 2016 film. He was totally immersed in his scene, and the sexual humour was well received by the audience who could not contain their laughter, not for any love or money, this scene did not leave a face in the room untouched with expression.

The equilibrium of the narrative was when the elderly couple, Angus and Agnes Price performed by James Adams and Ella Sabine were revealed to be the masterminds behind the disappearance of the cast that left the production one by one throughout Mr. Grin. Adams and Sabine succeeded in portraying the wicked elderly archetype, and this development in the narrative joined together the pieces for me.

Jacob Power, Robbie Smith and Ben Hughes did impeccably well to execute a production with wit continuously woven throughout the narrative, employing likeable characters, a strong vocal and comedic performance and an all-round great first experience for me at a comedy-musical. The technical team and band certainly amplified my enjoyment of Mr. Grin and they too should receive accolade. I look forward to seeing the next production that Power, Smith and Hughes create, and to see the cast of Mr. Grin take to the stage of the Annex in the near future.

Rating: 4 stars.