Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

11/01/2019

Snow White


Review by: Paul Towers, 9/1/19
Snow White by Michael Harrison with Alan McHugh, David McGillivary, Dawn French , Julian Clary & Paul Zerdin
Original songs by Gary Hind
The London Palladium until 13 January 2019

“first class, top of the bill cast.”

Last year was my first pantomime visit to the prestigious London Palladium. Dick Whittington with Julian Clary et al was an unexpected pleasure with Clary’s near the knuckle double entendres in a supposedly family friendly production. Many at the time commented that this was maybe too adult for innocent children’s ears and I agree.
This year, in the tenuous guise of the story of Snow White the smut-meter has been turned up to full blast but, in the perfectly manicured hands of the master of the entendre (double or single), Julian gets away with even more while still not frightening either the horses or the few children in the auditorium.
Building on the success of this newly reintroduced annual tradition The Palladium (and by extension  producers Qdos) have upped the budget, upped the star performers and have sold out virtually every performance. My visit on a cold and damp Wednesday matinee outside of school holidays had no seats available at all.
This Snow White takes extraordinary liberties with the traditional Grimm story but I don’t suppose anyone will bother complaining. All the requisite elements for traditional pantomime are there; Snow White, the wicked witch, the seven dwarves, the panto dame and lots of special effects and audience interaction.
Right from the start the producers have wisely jettisoned any thoughts of keeping to a  narrative and gone instead for spectacular dancing and star turns from the headliners.
Julian Clary in the first of many outrageous outfits minces on as The Man In The Mirror (queue a Michael Jackson song) immediately destroying the entire premise of the story and opens the door for Dawn French’s evil witch, Dragonella (so named solely to justify a huge flying dragon towards the end of the first half!). Paul Zerdin and his puppet sidekicks get their time in the spotlight and this wonderful parade of traditional variety acts is rounded off with the inimitable Gary Wilmot as Dame and a superb feat of memory with a song listing virtually every performer from the Palladium’s past. Last year the running joke was that Nigel Havers was booked but had no role to play. This year he has a role, Julian Clary’s understudy! Cue lots of outrageously unsuitable costumes.
This first class, top of the bill cast are very well supported by a huge ensemble of singers and dancers who seem to change costume very five minutes. The sets are amazing with both cloths and sliding set pieces coming in and out and up and down at an alarming rate with lots of pyrotechnics.
Once again it is very obvious that the enormous budget for this show has been well spent on the stars and the costumes and the various headliners have really upped their games from last year and completely justify the £150 seat price for the best view from the stalls. Although the show runs til January 13th I doubt very much whether you can get a ticket now. Best book for the 2019 panto as soon as the tickets are released in the spring.




22/12/2018

Peter Pan


Review by: Paul Towers, 22/12/18
JM Barrie’s Peter Pan  adapted by Will Brenton
An Imagine Theatre production
DeMontfort Hall 15 December to 6 January 2019

“hugely entertaining family fun”

After the runaway success of Imagine Theatre’s Beauty and The Beast last year at DeMontfort Hall they are back with Peter Pan.
This is a pantomime in the very best tradition; a hero, a villain, a dame and a comic.
Back by popular demand are Leicester’s very own Sam Bailey (Shoo) and Martin Ballard (Nanny McSmee). They are joined by Britain’s Got Talent contestant Kev Orkian as Smee, Cat Sandion (well known from Cbeebies) and Coronation Street’s Kevin Kennedy (Curly Watts for those with a long memory!) as Captain Hook at his moustache twirling best.
The juvenile leads are played by Andy Owens as Peter Pan, Kate Eaves as Wendy and Becky Burford as Tinkerbell.
I am sure we all know the story of Peter Pan, the boy who didn’t grow up and enticed Wendy Darling and her brothers to Never Never Land where they joined forces with The Lost Boys and defeated dastardly Captain Hook and his pirates.
All the elements of traditional panto are here in abundance; daring do, sword fights, loads of flying. Inbetween there is all the comedy we expect. The Dame, Martin Ballard, is a past master (mistress?) at getting the audience going in ever more outrageous frocks. Playing her son, Kev Orkian is an accomplished stand up comedian with acres of experience entertaining children of all ages with boundless energy and is a great comedy partner for Sam Bailey’s Shoo, the ship’s cook.
Lots of scene changes entail acres of backcloths and scenic elements, all of which are rolled on and off DeMontfort Hall’s ample stage into the cramped wings. On top of this there is the obligatory flying which Andy Owens has obviously mastered with lots of aerial gymnastics. And as with every great pantomime there are loads of songs, both current and old, shoe-horned in for all ages to join in with. S Club 7 and Steps are old favourites but this year’s go-to show is The Greatest Showman.
This is hugely entertaining family fun as shown by the fact that the youngest audience members were still in nappies, as were some of the oldest!
Peter Pan runs at DeMontfort Hall until 6 January. Best ticket availability are after Christmas
First published on Western Gazette







18/12/2018

Treasure Island


Review by: Paul Towers, 18/12/18
Treasure Island adapted by Sandi Toksvig
Lyrics by Jenifer Toksvig, Composer David Perkins, directed by Matthew Forbes
Leicester Haymarket Theatre 13 December to 6 January 2019

“liberally littered with puns and groan-worthy jokes”

Robert Louis Stevenson’s book of Treasure Island has been done to death and is a staple of both professional and amateur companies up and down the country at this time of year. So it was with some trepidation that I ventured out on a cold, wet and windy December evening to see Haymarket Theatre’s first in-house production since its refurb.
Sandi Toksvig has taken liberal inspiration from The Play That Goes Wrong and set this version in the final dress rehearsal of a cash strapped production in an unspecified regional theatre. This is a genius way of staging a swashbuckling yarn of pirates, high seas and tropical islands with very little scenery or costumes. It also allows for lots of sly digs at less than professional productions. There are loads of local references, not only to Leicester but also to the fact that the Haymarket was dark for 10+ years.
The script bounces deliciously between the main story and the back stage tribulations and deficiencies with the wit that you would expect from Ms Toksvig. Liberally littered with puns and groan-worthy jokes there is plenty for both adults and children to laugh at.
The main cast of 10 adults is supplemented by local children working in three teams on different nights.
I would love to give credit to the various performers in their roles but there is no hint in the programme of who plays what. What I can say for sure is that the two puppets representing the parrot and Ben Gunn were great fun and Gary Lineker’s cameo on video elicited a knowing nod to Leicester.
This is an ideal show for all ages with original songs, dance routines and  lots of laughs. Ideal festive fun for everyone.
Treasure Island is on at Haymarket Theatre until 6 January 2019

https://www.haytheatre.com/
First published on Western Gazette


14/12/2018

White Christmas


Review by: Paul Towers, 14/12/18
White Christmas By Irving Berlin (lyrics & music)  and David Ives & Paul Blake  (book)
Made at Curve, directed by Nikolai Foster, choreographed by Stephen Mears
Curve 6 December to 13 January 2019

“a sure fire festive winner.”

There was a full house for tonight’s Press Night of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas on a suitably frosty Friday. Like Gershwin’s Crazy For You earlier this year an Irving Berlin score is very distinctive and a guaranteed toe tapper, especially in the expert hands of Curve’s Nikolai Foster. Combine that with the set design skills of Michael Taylor and Stephen Mears’ distinctive choreography and Curve has a sure fire festive winner.
White Christmas is the 1950’s version of a jukebox musical, a series of songs (usually by a single songwriter) gathered together with a tenuous story. Except in the old movies there was a little more attention given to the story.
White Christmas is the story of a couple of ex soldiers who form a double act singing and dancing after the war. They are at a club one night and spot a singing sister act, The Sisters. Bob Wallace (Danny Mac, who still can’t keep his clothes on!) is immediately smitten with Betty Haynes (Emma Williams) while Phil Davis (Dan Burton) falls for Judy Haynes (Monique Young). In true musical fashion the path of true love doesn’t run smooth. They end up in a remote ski resort (unusually devoid of snow this particular year) and decide to put on a show to try and attract punters to the resort. Of course, in the end, it all works out and the boys pair up with the girls and live happily ever after as the snow finally falls over the mountainside and the entire cast sing White Christmas.
This is a hugely festive, feel-good show with an eye catching number of costumes and a huge set that slides in and out, up and down making full use of Curve’s extensive capabilities. The cast of  27 plus 13 Curve Young Company performers fill the stage with typically extravagant dance routines which are obviously influenced by Bob Fosse, Gower Champion, Busby Berkley and other great Broadway choreographers.
Some of the best lines belong to Wendy Mae Brown as Martha Watson who plays the concierge of the ski lodge. She also has a belter of a singing voice.
Judging by tonight’s full house there will be very few tickets before Christmas. Try for the New Year.
Full details available at www.curveonline.co.uk

First published on Western Gazette










The Cat in the Hat


Review by: Paul Towers, 14 December 2018
The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss, adapted by Katie Mitchell
A Curve & Rose Theatre, Kingston co-production
Curve 8 December 2018 – 12 January 2019 and then touring

“The Cat in the Hat IS all that!”

Dr Seuss is America’s answer to Roald Dahl, writing anarchic, funny books for young readers. In Dr Seuss’ case he aims to encourage pre-schoolchildren to read by using big bright pictures and simple verses and prose.
This musical play, originally produced by The National Theatre, is a lively mix of songs, dances and magic tricks all told in a fun, simplistic way to appeal to all ages from 2 years upwards. Starting with Sam Angell as Boy bouncing on stage and exhorting the audience to join in and sing along with him, this afternoon’s pretty full house of mainly pre-schoolers was immediately playing along. And then when Mellissa Lowe as his sister Sally joined him and they had a water fight with SuperSoakers over our heads, the squeals of delight and excitement reached fever pitch.
The story, such as it is, involves Sally and her brother being bored on a rainy afternoon. Conjuring up the legendary Cat in the Hat (Nana Amoo-Gottfired) mayhem ensues as he introduces Thing 1 and Thing 2 (Celia Francis and Robert Penny) into the mix. All three of them display great circus skills, not surprising as the show is created in conjunction with The National Centre for Circus Acts. While the two Things bounce around, up and over the set like hyperactive acrobats, The Cat is the magical ringmaster of the chaos.
The music of Tasha Taylor Johnson was, at times, a little loud but all the actors were amplified so nothing was missed. Charley Magalit as Fish had the most beautiful singing voice, especially as half the time she was encased in a Zorb ball rolling around the stage. The set by Isla Shaw was designed to look like a line drawing waiting to be coloured in and had several surprises built into it.
This is a short show, two 30 minute halves with a 20 minute interval, so is ideal for youngsters with short attention spans. Several of the children today were obviously on the spectrum and were wearing muffling headphones but this didn’t seem to detract from their enjoyment of the performance.
With three shows a day on most show days this is a short, snappy festive treat for even the youngest fans. There are especially relaxed performances on Saturday 22nd December and Sunday 6 January
All in all The Cat in the Hat IS all that!

www.curveonline.co.uk






06/12/2018

Now.Here. This.


Review by: Paul Towers, 06 December 2018
Now. Here. This - Book by Hunter Bell and Susan Blackwell, and Music and Lyrics by Jeff Bowen
Four Wheeled Theatre production
Upstairs @ The Western, 5th December to 22nd December


“alternately comic and sad”

Last week I dropped into the dress rehearsal of  Now. Here. This and was impressed. Tonight I saw the first public performance in the theatre. Yesterday afternoon there had been an accessible performance downstairs in the back bar but this was the first in the theatre.
Now. Here. This. is the tale of four friends from the four corners of America who meet up in a Natural History Museum and reminisce about their childhoods and lives. Taken in parallel with the story of evolution their various journeys to adulthood prove to be just as eventful as any species leaving the prehistoric swamps to crawl and fly.
This show is primarily a musical with narrative inbetween. Alternately comic and sad their various lives lead them, eventually, to a commonly bonded friendship circle of support and love.
Sam Hannah, Simon Butler-Little, Kathryn Lenthall and Charlotte-Emily Bond play many parts and sing up a storm with often just a scarf or a coat to change character.
This play is especially appropriate for Upstairs at The Western’s intimate performance space as you feel very close to the story.
If you are looking for be entertained without all the tinsel and baubles then this is a perfect evening for you.
Performances are scheduled in the upstairs theatre on the following dates:  7th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 20th, 21st and 22nd at 7.30pm. Additionally there will be a promenade performances in the downstairs bar especially for those with mobility issues who can’t manage the stairs on 12th December at 2pm. There will also be relaxed performances upstairs in the theatre on 15th and 22nd at 2pm. Full details on the website.

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

29/11/2018

Four Wheeled Theatre - Now. Here. This.


Show Profile by: Paul Towers, 29 November 2018
Now. Here. This - Book by Hunter Bell and Susan Blackwell, and Music and Lyrics by Jeff Bowen
Four Wheeled Theatre prodcution
Upstairs @ The Western, 5th December to 22nd December

“Now. Here. This. - a taste of what is to come.”

Upstairs at The Western has taken a huge gamble on staging a single show over the festive period. Now. Here. This. is a musical from 2012 written very much under the influence of Stephen Sondheim for a tight cast of four.
This is not a review of the show (that will follow next week) but rather a taste of what is to come.
The show is wholly new with original music and lyrics, many of them very witty.
The cast comprise Sam Hannah, Simon Butler-Little, Kathryn Lenthall and Charlotte-Emily Bond. The boys have worked with Four Wheel Theatre before but the girls are new to the company.
With a live keyboard accompanied by a backing track this story is based around four friends at a natural history museum in America.
Innovatively the performances are scheduled in the upstairs theatre on the following dates: 6th, 7th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 20th, 21st and 22nd at 7.30pm. Additionally there will be promenade performances in the downstairs bar especially for those with mobility issues who can’t manage the stairs on 5th and 12th at 2pm. There will also be relaxed performances upstairs in the theatre on 15th and 22nd at 2pm. This all chimes very well with the management’s vow to make theatre at Upstairs much more accessible.

http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
First published on Western Gazette