Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen


David Walliams' Awful Auntie

Review by: Paul Towers, 05 July 2018
David Walliams’ Awful Auntie – adapted by Neal Foster
A Birmingham Stage Company production
DeMontfort Hall 5 – 8th July 2018

“a sure fire winner for the young and young at heart.”

David Walliams, he of Britain’s Got Talent and Little Britain, has garnered a reputation as a successful writer of children’s books. Several, of course, have already been adapted for the stage and Awful Auntie is the latest and probably won’t be the last.
As is customary for a Walliams show this is a battle of evil adult against spunky child. In this case Stella’s  evil Aunt Alberta is plotting to take possession of Saxby Hall, burn it down and create an owl museum, an Owlseum, if you will.
Awful Auntie borrows elements from several popular children’s books; Harry Potter and Roald Dahl to start with. This is not to denigrate the book or the show but to acknowledge its antecedents.
While the first half is a little wordy as the scene is set, the second half packs loads of magic and stunts in as Stella turns the tables on Aunt Alberta with the help of Soot, the friendly ghost.
Of course Timothy Speyer as Aunt Alberta, channelling both Walliams himself and Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull, has great fun stealing the show. As Stella, Georgina Leonidas (herself a former cast member of the Harry Potter films as Katie Bell) discharges herself well flying around the stage avoiding her Aunt and keeping up with Soot. Soot, the friendly ghost, is played by Ashley Cousins as a cross between Frank Spencer and Joe Pasquale climbing all over the set in an assured way as he tries to keep Stella out of trouble. The final cast member is Gibbon the butler, played with eccentric charm by Richard James and very reminiscent of David Jason’s doddery old timer. But of course we can’t forget Wagner. Not the composer but a huge owl expertly puppeted by Roberta Bellekorn who saves the day in several ways.
The set was very creatively designed by Jacqueline Trousdale and consisted of four towers which revolved and moved around the stage by remote control to create rooms within Saxby Hall including the cellar.
With lots of  smut for the children and a few jokes for the adults this is a sure fire winner for the young and young at heart.
Awful Auntie is on at DeMontfort Hall until Sunday with tickets available on most performances.


Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain

Review by: Paul Towers, 02 July 2018
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain
By Simon Reade after Arthur Conan Doyle
A Theatre Royal Bath & Kenny Wax production
Curve  2 – 7th July 2018

“Sherlock Holmes has retired to obscurity.”

The premise of this new play is that Sherlock Holmes has retired to obscurity after supposedly dying in The Final Problem and ended up in a  cottage on the Sussex coast keeping bees. It is from here that events conspire to drag him back to 221b Baker Street where Dr & Mrs Watson reside and are looked after by Miss Hudson, daughter of their former housekeeper. Holmes is convinced that he is being stalked and liable to be killed. Can he work out who his killer is before they get to him?
I wanted there to be an energy, a Benedict Cumberbatch zing to both the dialogue and the action. But there wasn’t. The production lulled me into a relaxed state akin to listening to whale music. I couldn’t summon up any enthusiasm for the play.
It wasn’t that anything was wrong with the production, just that there wasn’t anything right.
The actors acted well, they projected without microphones and every word could be heard. The set looked nice, a back cloth separated the blank foreground from the busily dressed study behind. Scene changes were imaginatively covered by a curtain sliding across the stage but was more animated than the onstage action. The whole thing was very pedestrian. It looked and sounded like a radio play transferred lazily to the stage.
Robert Powell as Holmes did his best, enunciating well and declaiming with conviction. Timothy Knightley as Dr Watson was everything we could ask for as a replacement for Nigel Stock from the 60’s  TV series. Liza Goddard was suitably de-glamorised for her role as Mary Watson. Thank goodness for Anna O’Grady’s Miss Hudson for some much needed light relief.
At least we were comfortable in Curve’s air conditioned auditorium.
Tickets for the rest of the week’s run are available at


Super Hero

Review by: Paul Towers, 30 June 2018
Super Hero by Adam Johnson, music & lyrics by Henry Roadnight
A National Youth Music Theatre production
Curve 30 June 2018

“professional quality performances.”

National Youth Music Theatre (NYMT) was created in 1976 to enable young talented musical theatre performers to learn their craft in live productions. In the last few years Curve has been a regular stop on their annual tour and this year’s production was well up to their usual high standard. Since 2016 NYMT have been associate artists of Curve and have brought Sweet Charity, Spring Awakening and Billy The Kid to us.
This year’s offering, Super Hero, was commissioned by NYMT and written by alumni Adam Johnson and Henry Roadnight as part of NYMT’s commitment to nurturing new young musical theatre writers.
Super Hero is a timely story about how being different is often a good thing and something to be celebrated.
Sammy is special. Whenever he feels excited he starts to dance and everyone around him has no choice but to join in. In order for him to realise his potential his parents send him off to Hero School where he will fit in with all the other kids who have special powers.
This is a fun filled musical. Think X Men with music, comedy and dancing!
While the entire cast are exceptional there are  stand out performerances from 12 year old William Barter as Sammy and Florence Russell (20) as Principle Tilly Pathetic (channelling Maggie Smith’s Jean Brody to perfection).
As the villain of the piece and worthy of any pantomime, Anna Hale (21) as Miss Menace is ably assisted by her sidekick Mr Plop (Julian Plunkett 18) in their dastardly deeds. All of the cast give professional quality performances despite only being aged between 12 and 21.
Equally the orchestra is made up of talented musicians aged only 15 to 23.
This would make a great Christmas show for kids along the lines of Roald Dahl or Dr Seuss.
The next stop on their tour of this show is Rose Theatre, Kingston on 14th July
Full details of the work that National Youth Music Theatre does and its touring schedule can be found at


Into the woods

Review by: Paul Towers, 27 June 2018
Into The Woods by Stephen Sondheim
KW Productions, Kieran Whelan, Karen Gordon, Keir Watson
Little Theatre 26 – 30th June 2018

“KW Productions has shown their mastery of Stephen Sodheim’s works.”

Once again Kieran Whelan’s KW Productions has shown their mastery of Stephen Sodheim’s works.
Into The Woods is a mash up (to use the young people’s parlance) of several fairy tales but with a more realistic non-happy-ending. Oddly enough for a show that was first produced in 1986 it contains many themes that resonate with modern audiences.
Taking the stories of Cinderella, Jack and The Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel as a starting point Sondheim twists the stories together to make a much darker tale of adultery, despair, retribution and greed.
The first half takes us along the familiar paths of the various characters and all seems resolved. Cinderella gets her Prince, Jack gets his fortune, Red Riding Hood survives the wolf and Rapunzel escapes from her tower.
Then, after the interval, their whole world comes crashing down, literally, and we are warned to be careful what we wish for.
Once again Keiran Whelan has gathered around him a cast of excellent singers and actors along with musical director Leigh White.
While several cast member deserve mention, Lee Samuels as the Baker, Tim Stokes as Jack and Danielle Smith as the Baker’s Wife, special mention has to be made of KW Productions regular Karen Gordon who has huge fun vamping it up as the Witch. Much high comedy is provided by Whelan and Kier Watson as Ugly Sisters, the Princes and the cow (I know, it has to be seen to be believed).
The set is very simple but not ineffective with lots of props scattered around. The costumes are not elaborate but serve the story well.
This production is part of the fund raising drive that The Little Theatre is running to finance a huge expansion of their premises. Tickets are still available for the rest of the run


Richard Pulsford

Review by: Paul Towers, 22 June 2018
Uns-Pun by Richard Pulsford
Upstairs @ The Western, Friday, 22 June 2018

“pithy puns and topical one liners.”

If, like me, you have the attention span of a goldfish and are a fan of playground humour then Richard Pulsford is a name to watch out for.
Richard has been gigging since 2004 and is often compared with Tm Vine, Milton Jones, Gary Delaney or Stewart Francis. He has been an invited performer at Leicester Comedy Festival’s annual Pun Competition and competed favourably for the last 4 years.
In preparation for this year’s Edinburgh Festival in August he is part of Upstairs at The Western’s series of Preview gigs.
Tonight his material ranged from pithy puns to topical one liners. Being a preview show the material was a little patchy, but that is what it is for, to sort the wheat from the chaff. The intimate audience appreciated the show and groaned and laughed in all the right places. Full details of up and coming shows can be found at

Upstairs at The Western


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