Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

08/11/2018

Dream On


Review by: Paul Towers, 08 November 2018
Dream On by Kirsty Munro
Upstairs @ The Western, 8 November 2018

“bonkers show.”

Thursday comedy at Upstairs at The Western this week featured Edinburgh Fringe veteran Kirsty Munro
This is the (true) story of a bipolar comedian who doesn’t appear to take her medication and has a meltdown during her Edinburgh run.  This is a cabaret show revealing and revelling in the mishaps of a misshapen mind. Embarrassing disasters, losing touch with reality and what not to do when the love of your life just doesn’t fancy you. How to serenade yourself into bed, confessional stories of pulling all nighters and things that go bonk in the night. In this show dreams will come true. Along the way we get Kirsty’s Dirty Dancing with a sex doll, the frustration of a terminal singleton and a chunk of gratuitous nudity. With lots of audience interaction this bonkers show careers to a (fairly) satisfactory finale at a wedding.
Follow Kirsty’s dreams on Twitter @MunroKirsty

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/

25/10/2018

Fly Half


Review by: Paul Towers, 25 October 2018
Fly Half by Gary Lagden, music by Gareth Moulton
Upstairs @ The Western, 25th & 26th October 2018

“a classy, emotional story of the allure of rugby.”

I have to admit that I am a sucker for a Welsh accent and Gary Lagden’s lyrical, almost musical use of  the English language is sublime. Add to this Gareth Moulton’s virtuoso guitar playing, atmospheric electric and folksy acoustic soundtrack and this play is almost like an opera.
Fly Half is, as expected, a hymn to the almost religious fervour that the game of rugby engenders in many men, especially in the working class regions of Wales.
As a young boy Darren was anxious to join his father on the terraces of his local club and fulfil his promise of becoming a fly half.
Through the deprivation that hit the town over the years rugby was the one constant, the thing that held the community together. Darren grew up and, sure enough, followed his father onto the team. Along the way he locked horns on many an occasion with the angry team bully, Barry Highland. It was the calming influence of his wife, Sian, that kept him on an even keel. Eventually there was a son, John, a boy to pass his passion for rugby on to. But, in Darren’s eyes, John betrayed his rugby roots by being swayed by the corporate hold on the game. But he was still his son.
The passion and disappointment come to the fore as Darren raged about the inequity of  the modern game.
Gary Lagden as Darren has written himself a great part full of  humour, emotion and an obvious love for the game.
Gareth Moulton, sat at the side of the stage with just a couple of guitars, provides a beautiful background soundtrack until he switches to an acoustic instrument to sing original folksy songs as scene changes.
This is a classy, emotional story of the allure of rugby
Fly Half is at Upstairs at The Western again on Friday 26th October. Further performances and full details can be found on https://tinyurl.com/yd97afmf

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
First published on Western Gazette

18/10/2018

The Frontline


Review by: Paul Towers, 18 October 2018
The Frontline by Che Walker
Made at Curve for Inside Out Festival
Curve 17 – 20 October

“a great showcase”

Curve’s latest innovative programme for up and coming theatre talent, New Theatre Talent, is supported by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation. This is a 12 month course for young actors who want to work in a professional environment and gain the experience that that will give them. Over the past year they have learnt skills which will stand them in good stead as they go forward to become professional actors.
The culmination of all that work is this showcase performance of The Frontline over 4 days in Curve’s Studio space.
A very talented cast of 16 actors tell 12 stories of inner city angst that happen one eventful Saturday night.
There is a clever set of neon doorways designed by Kevin Jenkins which light up in various colours as they are used. I think that better use of stage lighting would have made the various stories more significant and easier to follow. Throughout the production there are several set pieces where the narrative is expanded and explained. Unfortunately there are also several places where shouted cross talk, trying to convey chaos,  means that nothing can be followed. It is just noise.
The text seems to have an identity crisis at times and can’t decide whether to be street talk or a lecture, often from the same character in the same speech.
While every member of the cast performed well certain characters were given parts which allowed them to shine more than others. Simon Butler as Mordechai Thurrock, the desperate actor, had a dream part giving comic lightness amidst the dark drama. Med Janneh and Ngozi Ogon as two warring drug dealers enabled Ms Ogon to beautifully channel Kevin & Perry to great comic affect. Ngozi Ogona also played Beth, although needing to project a little more, she sashayed splendidly across the stage as the  wannabe stripper Baby Doll, while Lydia Unsudimi played Beth the born again Christian.
Overall this production gave the alumni of Curve’s inaugural New Theatre Talent programme a great showcase allowing them to build characters and present them to an appreciative paying public.
The Frontline is at Curve until Saturday 20 October.

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17/10/2018

Coming up this winter in Leicester


COMING UP THIS WINTER
If you are looking for entertainment as we plunge head long into winter, here in Leicester you are spoiled for choice.
DeMontfort Hall has their annual pantomime starring local heroes Sam Bailey and Martin Ballard in Peter Pan. Also starring Corrie’s Kevin Kennedy, the all flying family extravaganza runs from 15 December right through to 2 January
Over at Leicester Haymarket their Christmas show is a reworking of the old classic, Treasure Island. Written by Bake Off presenter Sandi Toksvig , this is family entertainment with puppets and live action. It runs from 13 December to 6 January
The Little Theatre continues its Christmas tradition with Mother Goose as its annual pantomime. Devised and directed by resident know-it-all John Bale this is sure to be as popular with youngsters and the not so young as it is every year. It runs from 14 December to 6 January.
Curve traditionally avoids pantomime and presents festive offering for adults and children. This year’s grown up musical is the evergreen White Christmas starring Danny Mac fresh from his triumph in Sunset Boulevard last year. Joining him in this Irving Berlin classic will be Emma Williams, Dan Burton and Monique Young. It runs from 6 December to 13 January so there is no excuse to miss out. For the youngsters there is a departure form the annual Roald Dahl fun with a new production on Dr Seuss’ The Cat In The Hat directed by Curve’s Suba Das. The Cat is in Leicester from 8 December to 12 January, the ideal way to occupy your little monsters over the holidays.
Curve has an exciting year coming up in 2019 with brand new productions and classic revivals so watch out for announcements soon.

16/10/2018

Calendar Girls - The Musical


Review by: Paul Towers, 16 October 2018
Calendar Girls – The Musical by Gary Barlow & Tim Firth
Produced by David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers and The Schubert Organisation
DeMontfort Hall 16 – 20 October 2018

“alternately hilarious and poignant in a single breath.”

Back in 2003 Tim Firth and Juliette Towhidi wrote a film about an enterprising Women’s Institute group in Yorkshire who decided to create a naked calendar to raise funds for a sofa to commemorate the husband of one of their number who had died of leukemia.
So successful were their efforts that it inspired a film which took off, touching hearts around the world. It was a story of how friends come  together in adversity, support each other and create something wonderful out of tragedy.
Childhood friends Tim Firth and Gary Barlow decided that the story and the film would make a good basis for a musical full of life affirming, empowering songs. And so Calendar Girls – The Musical was born and opened in Leeds in 2015. After a residency in London’s West End it has been recast and is out on tour.
Tim and Gary have fashioned a show that is alternately hilarious and poignant in a single breath. The laughs start from the moment the lights go up and continue in waves til the final curtain.
Barlow’s songs are a revelation. Dismissed by many as a fluffy pop song-smith his talents as a songwriter shine in this show as he both moves the story along and provides light relief in what could be, in all honesty, a depressing tale. While most of the songs wouldn’t stand alone as pop singles they are excellent at doing the job they are written for. Telling a story well and with humour.
The current cast is awash with familiar faces led by one Fern Britton with Ruth Madoc, Sara Crowe, Denise Welch and Ian Mercer to mention just the faces you will know from TV. While their familiarity helps sell tickets and certainly pleased the full audience tonight they are just the tip of the iceberg of talent in this production. There are lots of good comedy performances and several of the leading ladies get their own powerhouse songs to sing.
The set is very impressive and represents a Yorkshire hillside complete with grass and a farm gate. Clever lighting transforms the stage at various times and well balanced sound ensures we hear every word without being deafened.
Calendar Girls - The Musical is at DeMontfort Hall until Saturday 20th October. Limited seats are available at https://tinyurl.com/ycb9z4ar
Details of the continuing tour are at https://tinyurl.com/y9ns5bd2
First published on Western Gazette

09/10/2018

Cilla the Musical


Review by: Paul Towers, 09 October 2018
Cilla the musical  by Jeff Pope
A Bill Kenwright production
Curve 9 – 13 October 2018

“Kara Lily Hayworth takes the stage by storm.”

When Priscilla Maria Veronica White, aka Cilla Black, died in Spain on 1 August 2015 many thought that that would be that. Her legacy would be 50 odd years of entertaining the great unwashed public, many hours of tapes and DVD’s of her TV work, 41 singles and 35 albums. But then her enterprising son, Robert Willis, thought that her life apart from the entertaining was interesting enough to warrant a biographical drama. And so it was that Sheridan Smith donned the trademark red hair to bring her heydays to a whole new audience in 2014.
From the success of that TV mini series a full blown musical theatre show was created by the same author, Jeff Pope. Sadly Cilla didn’t live to see the finished production but had given her blessing to a first draft.
The story of Cilla’s early life is fairly well known to those with an interest in the 60’s and 70’s music scene. Spotted by Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein in Liverpool’s Cavern Club the office girl Priscilla White was groomed for a singing career. Besotted Bobby Willis tagged along as her road manager watching as Epstein propelled her to mega stardom. With her sights firmly set on stardom Cilla, as she was now named, strung Bobby along until she suddenly realised she couldn’t manage without him and finally married him.
This perfectly illustrates how Pope and Robert Willis don’t gloss over some of the less palatable aspects of Black’s rise to prominence.
Like the TV series the story is of Cilla’s journey up to the moment that Brian Epstein dies in mysterious circumstances leaving a contract for her very first BBC series and thence super stardom.
In the title role Kara Lily Hayworth takes the stage by storm and makes the role her own with, dare I say it, a better voice than the original. Alexander Patmore as Bobby Willis plays the second in command of her career with aplomb while Andrew Lancel’s wooden acting style perfectly fits the character of controlling and manipulating Brian Epstein.
A versatile set framed by railway arches and incorporating many drop down flies takes us from the almost poverty stricken Liverpool of Cilla’s childhood to the Abbey Road studios and various TV studios.
Neil Macdonald as her father, John, channels Stanley Holloway to good effect. Providing most of the onstage music are Bill Caple, Alex Harford, Joe Etherington and Michael Hawkins as Ringo Starr (very complimentary casting), George Harrison, Paul McCartney and John Lennon respectively. My only criticism would be that the band/orchestra sometimes overpowers Hayworth’s voice
While many of the musical numbers are from Cilla’s back catalogue there are also quite a few from other influential Mersey Beat artistes like the Beatles, Gerry and The Pacemakers and The Big Three.
This is a joyful musical that tells the story of a poor Liverpool girl who made it big by sheer talent.
Cilla is halfway through a national tour (again) and is at Curve until Saturday 13 October
Details of future tour dates can be found at http://www.cillathemusical.com/

First published on Western Gazette



24/09/2018

The Wipers Times


Review by: Paul Towers, 24 September 2018
The Wipers Times by Ian Hislop & Nick Newman
A Trademark Touring & Watermill Theatre production
Curve – 24 – 29 September 2018

“a wonderfully comic account of the genesis of satirical publishing.”

Gallows humour is the laughs that come from dire circumstances. Funeral Directors are adept at defusing the sadness of their profession with  laughter. So, too, are soldiers, especially those on the battlefield, as was expertly portrayed by the film M*A*S*H.
The Wipers Times is a perfect example of humour being used to offset the horrors of the first world war and the task of surviving another day.
Chancing upon an old manual printing press in amongst the bombed out buildings of  Ypres, Fred Roberts and Jack Pierson, by chance having the services of ex printer Tyler to hand, resolve to utilise the dark humour of their situation and produce a morale boosting newspaper; an outlet for their emotions and a chance to satirise the high command.
Often written in those dark, wet nights between shellings and edited under fire, the prodigious output of the contributors was deemed by the authorities to be subversive and undermining of the war effort. Various commands to shut the paper down were ignored or circumvented and it continued throughout the war.
Ian Hislop and Nick Newman have written a wonderfully comic account of the genesis of satirical publishing. An hilarious mix of narrative, songs and dancing take us through the almost non-stop barrage of gunfire as the paper is compiled.
The Wipers Times paper got a fleeting name-check in the film Oh What A Lovely War and the favour is returned with fantasy sequences in homage to that show.
The wonderful programme on sale at Curve is created as a spoof copy of The Wipers Times with satirical poems, advertisements and stories.
A tight cast of 10 are lead by James Dutton and George Kemp as Roberts & Pierson. The set, designed by Dora Schweitzer, is effectively complimented by the sound and lighting effects of Steve Mayo and James Smith to recreate the appalling conditions of a Ypres trench.
The Wipers Times is on tour until December
Full details on www.wiperstimesplay.co.uk

First published on Western Gazette