Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen


Njambi McGrath & Sara Mason

Review by: Paul Towers, 15 June 2018
Njambi McGrath & Sara Mason
Edinburgh Festival Preview
Upstairs @ The Western, Friday, 15 June 2018

“an eclectic mix of acts.”

I just love Edinburgh Preview season at Upstairs at The Western. There is such an eclectic mix of acts and tonight was one of the most ‘interesting’
First up was Njambi McGrath, a Kenyan national now resident in the UK. Njambi came here a few years ago after visiting the US, which makes up a big chunk of her material in this show. Contrasting the American Dream as seen from East Africa with the racist reality makes for hard hitting comedy with a message. She has an endearing habit of rounding off rambling tales with killer one liners. She is also adept at throw away asides which catch the audience unawares. All great fun.

Now I am having trouble making this next act family friendly. But I will try.
Sara Mason is an accomplished actor, presenter and stand up comic. For the last 2 years she has been honing her latest show, Mistress Venetia, A Beginner’s Guide To Bondage and it is now set fair for Edinburgh. As the title suggests this is BDSM for Dummies, think Cynthia Payne with more whips as demonstrated by a middle aged dominatrix in garish pink boots and chains. There is very little I can safely say in a respectable family magazine except to point out that this is only for the very broadminded person who is up for both education in the dark arts and a fair amount of audience participation.

Upstairs at The Western


Checkout (or Archibald's Pacemaker)

Review by: Paul Towers, 13 June 2018
Checkout by Rob Gee
Upstairs @ The Western, 13th June 2018

“Hilarious, often Orton-esque.”

It is often difficult to critique a work in progress. In the case of Rob Gee’s Checkout he had the script to hand as this was a very early read through. While the main elements of this hilarious series of  interlinking stories are all there I feel there is still a little work to link them smoothly. That said, this is once again a travail through the often bizarre mind of Rob Gee, comic, poet and psychiatric nurse.
Dominic wakes up with a memory blackout and discovers he’s handcuffed to a coffin containing the cold stiff body of John major. Archie has bequeathed his pacemaker to his friend who falls in love at his funeral. Maddy has kicked a burglar in the groin and now she has a taste for it. Bollock has his issues. Along the way we discover how a secondhand pacemaker can make a great toy for a 6 year old.
Gee’s last show, The King of Egypt (or Icarus Rising) introduced us to his surreal world and Checkout allows us to immerse ourselves in it even further. Hilarious, often Orton-esque, episodes pile one upon another as his characters lurch from crisis to crisis until, finally, they culminate in a sort of resolution. At least for some of them.
Information about Rob Gee’s work can be found at

Upstairs at The Western


Dave Alnwick- Luxury Magician

Review by: Paul Towers, 9 June 2018
Luxury Magic – Dave Alnwick
Upstairs @ The Western, 9 June 2018

“an extraordinary bundle of ginger magic.”

When this extraordinary bundle of ginger magic bounced onto the stage of Upstairs at The Western last year I was blown away with his tricks and banter. This year he is back, prior to the Edinburgh Fringe, with a completely different show.
This time he has bundled together a load of card tricks which become more and more unbelievable as the show progresses. The patter this time is all about how psychology determines our life choices and, apparently, our card choices. As young Mr Alnwick would have us believe he lectures in psychology, I can well believe his assumptions.
He also demonstrated some amazing feats of memory.
He has a very charming, slightly bumbling, stage persona. Now, whether that is natural or put on to bamboozle the audience I have no idea, but it works like a dream
Dave Alnwick’s Luxury Magic show is on its way to Edinburgh and he has dates all the way up til then.
Full details of his shows can be found on Facebook at or his website

Upstairs at The Western


Crazy for you

Review by: Paul Towers, 04 June 2018
Crazy For You , music & lyrics by George & Ira Gershwin, book by Ken Ludwig
A Watermill Theatre production directed by Paul Hart
Curve – 4 – 9th June 2018

“an evening of musical heaven”

From the moment the lights go down and a lone clarinet breathes out the opening bars of Rhapsody in Blue from behind the gauze you know you are in for an evening of musical heaven.
Crazy For You  is a show packed full of both familiar numbers and some new to the discerning musical theatre ear. The first half is a smorgasbord of Krazy For You, Shall We Dance, Someone To Watch Over Me, Embraceable You, Tonight’s The Night and I Got Rhythm. And that’s only the ones I recognised. There were just as many inbetween that were new to me.
The second half continued to spoil us with They Can’t Take That Away From Me, But Not For Me, Nice Work If You Can Get It and a fabulous finale. Again these were interspersed with a whole raft of unfamiliar numbers.
The Gershwins were a veritable song factory, far too many for anyone to know all of, so it is nice to get a sample of their less well know work alongside hummable standards.
This week at Curve is the last in a two year tour of this production and you can see the familiarity the cast have with each other, the little comic bits put in, the gymnastics they are comfortable with stretching almost to breaking point.
The story, such as it is, concerns Bobby Child, sent to the wilds of  Nevada to foreclose on a run down theatre mortgaged to his mother. There he meets a girl, Polly Baker and proceeds to fall in love. Of course, this is a romantic comedy musical so nothing goes right. But along way we get to see a whole load of dancing, singing and hilarity before the couple fall into each other’s arms just as the curtain comes down.
The company is lead by Tom Chambers, understandable winner of season 6 of Strictly, with Claire Sweeney as his pushy fiancée Irene. Claire of course is a familiar face at Curve having been in Hairspray. Bobby’s love interest, Polly, is played by Charlotte Wakefield, a powerhouse of a performer whether she is singing, dancing or playing instruments. In fact every single member of the cast plays an instrument. Even Tom Chambers carried a creditable tune on the trumpet.
The set, basically the run down theatre, is an ambitious one for a touring show with galleries, staircases and tatty balconies which the cast climb up and down at an alarming rate.. Tom Chambers even does a drunken abseil at one point which must have given Health & Safety nightmares!
As the entire musical accompaniment is live and on stage and often dancing as well, there is no recorded back up, no click track for the tap dancing. The incredible cast provide every single sound and effect in full view.
The Follies Dancers provide an effective chorus line as well as various characters and the redneck band provide the same service for the male characters.
This production, directed by Paul Hart and designed by Diego Pitarch is a credit to Watermill and the choreography by Nathan M Wright perfectly captures the essence of  1930’s backstage musicals.
I defy you to come out into the night not humming at least one number
Oh, and mention has to be made of the sumptuous programme. A huge A3 catalogue of high resolution production photographs with informative programme notes and background material.
Tickets for the rest of the week are available at


9/11 was a conspiracy

Review by: Paul Towers, 31 May 2018
9/11 Was A Conspiracy written and directed by Pip Nixon
Performed by Nicola Wood
Upstairs @ The Western, 31st May 2018

“a heady mix of humour, pathos and bonkers conspiracy theories.”

Upstairs at the Western has established itself as a step along the journey to The Edinburgh Festival. This is 52 Up’s first production and is the first performance of the almost-finished article before the festival.
This is the story of how a couple get together and, despite differing views, make a go of it.
She is out for a night with the girls and spots this guy along the bar looking at her. He has nice eyes. Inevitably they end up in bed. He makes her laugh. He is good in bed. He is good to his dear old mum. What can possibly go wrong?
It turns out he believes all the conspiracy theories floating around on the internet. 9/11 was a deliberate Government hoax; the Pentagon wasn’t crashed into; Sandy Hook never happened. The list is endless.
So, how do you continue a relationship with someone you love when you don’t love what they believe?
Nicola Wood’s monologue is as though she is pouring out her frustrations to her girlfriend as she tries to rationalise her feelings for a man for whom there are certain subjects she needs to avoid if she wants to prevent a too heavy discussion.
A simple set of a chair against a black cloth allows us to easily concentrate on Nicola’s dialogue, a heady mix of humour, pathos and, to rational people, bonkers conspiracy theories.
9/11 Was A Conspiracy heads off to The Edinburgh Fringe on 3rd August 2018. We wish them well
Follow their progress on their Facebook page, 52UpProductions

Upstairs at The Western



Review by: Paul Towers, 24 May 2018
Blink by Phil Porter
An Upstairs at the Western and Selfless production
Directed by Josh Rai
Upstairs @ The Western, 24th – 25th May 2018

“Blink tries to make sense of  modern romance.”

What is love? What is a relationship? How does modern technology factor into it?
Blink tries to make sense of  modern romance.
Sophie (Katie Amanda Smith), a software developer, has been nursing her terminally ill father in the house. Once he has passed she uses the money he left her to divide the house into two flats. She takes the upstairs and lets out the downstairs to Jonah. Jonah (John Saxton) is an unworldly, naïve farmer’s son. His mother has died and he has left the security of  the "self-sustaining religious community" to experience life in London. By chance he ends up renting the bottom floor of a converted house in Islington with the legacy his mother left him to escape his father’s cloying ways.
So far so good. But where it takes a bizarre turn is that she leaves the baby video monitor that she had used to keep an eye on her father connected. Obviously intrigued by her new lodger she posts the receiver for the baby monitor to him and he takes to watching her as she goes about her normal day. This would be very creepy if it wasn’t for the fact that she, the watched, instigated it and he, the watcher, is unaware that she knows or even that she is his landlady. That is, until one day she drops a load of things on the floor just as he is watching her and he puts two and two together.
Now that they both know that she is watching and that he is complicit they start a remote relationship, eating meals together, watching TV together all courtesy of the magic of wifi.
Gradually they start to go out to places together, but still not together. Not interacting. Until eventually they decide to take things a step further and move in together. But of course it doesn’t work. Their voyeur/exhibitionist relationship is as close as they can handle.
This may all seem very odd but, if it works for them, who are we to judge?
John Saxton and Katie Amanda Smith do a fine job of bringing this idiosyncratic couple to life with comedy and pathos.
Blink is on at Upstairs at The Western again tomorrow, Friday 25th May and tickets are still available

Upstairs at The Western



Review by: Paul Towers, 16 May 2018
Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge
A Soho Theatre & Dry White production directed by Vicky Jones and performed by Maddie Rice
Curve 16 – 19 May 2018

“laugh, cry and be shocked all within minutes"

This is the stage show based on the BBC series which in itself  was born of the Edinburgh Festival show by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Fleabag (that is the nearest we get to an actual name) takes us careering through her life as she copes with the death of her best friend, a chaotic sex/love life and a failing business. Add into the mix the untimely death of Hillary, the sole link she still has with her dead best friend, and you have some idea of the mess her life is in. Hillary, by the way, is a guinea pig (it is way too complicated to explain!)
Fleabag unburdens herself  to us, a stand in for her BFF, and drags us through her chaotic series of one-night stands, social anxiety  and disastrous job interviews.
All this tumbles out unfiltered, outrageously, graphically filthy and hilariously inappropriate.
As played by Maddie Rice, Fleabag instantly draws you into her world, unsavoury as it is. With just a single chair on a raised dais, Rice creates this extraordinary place where we laugh, cry and are shocked all within minutes. A nice batch of half a dozen voice-overs fill in the gaps as Fleabag lurches from one crisis to another.
This show is huge fun so long as you have a broad mind.
Catch this hilarious show at Curve until Saturday 19th May