Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

18/09/2018

Cats


Review by: Paul Towers, 18 September 2018
Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber & TS Eliot
Leicester Theatre Group presentation
Little Theatre 18 – 22nd September 2018

“hugely talented cast with the confidence of a professional troupe.”

Leicester Theatre Group is a Newfoundpool based non-profit organisation created to provide young people aged 11 to 18 with the opportunity to get involved in musical theatre and perform in one of their regular West End style productions, usually at The Little Theatre or the Sue Townsend Theatre. Last year they did Les Miserables and this year it is the turn of Cats.
A huge cast of 42 bring TS Eliot’s tales of Jellicle Cats to life on a set designed by Neil Allan that resembles a derelict yard. Ranged round the back is slatted fencing which cleverly allows the various kittens and cats to roam up and down the gantries behind giving the illusion  of a community of feral felines.
Director Zoe Curlett is an experienced West End performer and brings a mainstream sensibility to the production. Like Bob Fosse, Gillian Lynne’s style of choreography is instantly identifiable and Jessica Vaughan has wisely not deviated far from the original.
In such a large production there is plenty of room for individuals to shine and Maev Wood’s Grizabella singing Memories broke everyone’s heart.
This hugely talented cast danced and sang with the confidence of a professional troupe.
Cats is at The Little Theatre until Saturday 22nd September but is sold out. Call the box office for any returns.

www.thelittletheatre.net

First published on Western Gazette
A version of this review was broadcast on TakeOver Radio

12/09/2018

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang


Review by: Paul Towers, 12 September 2018
Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Richard & Robert Sherman, book by Jeremy Sams
A Leicester Amateur Operatic Society production
Haymarket Theatre 11 – 15 September 2018

“a spectacularly successful evening’s entertainment”

The Leicester Amateur Operatic Society (LAOS) has a reputation stretching back to 1890 for putting on professional quality shows using amateur performers. Their back catalogue covers a wide range of classics and modern shows. This year’s production, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, took to the stage in the West End in 2003 and on Broadway in 2005. The touring version ran from 2015 to 2017.
Based on the 1968 film this musical is the story of a single dad bringing up two children and home schooling them alongside their grandfather. The children persuade him to buy a wreck of a car that they have been playing with in a neighbour’s back yard. This turns out to be a somewhat famous old racing car which, unbeknownst to them, possesses magical powers. This is why the evil Baron Bombast wants it. Caractacus, the children, grandpa and Truly Scrumptious join forces to defeat the Baron, evade the Child Catcher and free the children of the kingdom.
Unexpectedly written by James Bond creator Ian Fleming and originally filmed by James Bond auteur Cubby Broccoli it was adapted for the screen by Roald Dahl (no surprise there).
As expected LAOS fielded a strong cast led by Darryl Clarke as an energetic Caractacus Potts, Nicole Webb as Truly Scrumptious with Harry Rooney and Rosie Oldman as the children. The scene stealer of the night was Rory, playing Edison the dog. Of course the outright star of the night is the car. And yes it does fly
With loads of sets, lots of back drops and a huge cast of 45 you would expect this to be a spectacularly successful evening’s entertainment. While the cast sing and dance up a storm; the sets are wheeled on and off mostly without too much noise. However all the hard work of the cast and crew was spoiled by an appallingly bad and inefficient sound system. All the way through the production the sound either cut out, faded down or blasted out feedback. The providers of the audio system should be ashamed of themselves. All credit should go to the cast who carried on without missing a beat. Professional performers in every way. Hopefully these problems can be rectified.


First published on Western Gazette

07/09/2018

Strictly Ballroom The Musical


Review by: Paul Towers, 5/9/18
Strictly Ballroom The Musical by Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce
A Leeds Playhouse production directed by Drew McOnie
Piccadilly Theatre London until October 27th 2018

“the highest of camp and makes BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing look dowdy”

Anyone who remembers the 1992 film by Baz Luhrmann will be in no doubt about what to expect of his stage version. Imagine the result if Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was crossed with Everybody’s Talking About Jamie but with added feathers, sequins  and tulle. You would be going some way towards what is on the stage of The Piccadilly Theatre.
This show is the highest of camp and makes BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing look dowdy. All the girls look like drag queens. All the guys look like drag queens out of drag. It is huge fun with tons of laughs and a soundtrack of  familiar tunes shoe horned into the storyline with scant regard for chronology. But who cares?
The MC is the person who keeps everything under control (sort of) and sings most of the songs as he moves the narrative along. Usually this is played by Matt Cardle but on the Wednesday matinee I went his understudy, Justin-Lee Jones, was on and a very good job he did too. Two ladies sat behind me who had seen the show several times opined that he was the best yet.
Several of the characters have obviously been modelled on people we know. Les Kendall, played by Richard Grieve, is very much a Donald Trump caricature. Ken Railings, Gary Watson, was a high camp parody of Bob Downe (if there is such a thing) and Charlotte Gooch as Tina Sparkle was very like Kath & Kim, all screechy Aussie vowels.
The two leads were played by Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen, both known for their dancing skills. However this show stretches them further than ever and they both rise to the occasion splendidly with a wide range of dance styles and some impressive pasodoble footwork ably instructed by Fernado Mira’s Rico
A great supporting ensemble camp it up as Scott Hastings (Labey) throws the world of Australian ballroom dancing into chaos with his innovative dancing. Cue feather, sequins and ball gowns aplenty as they swirl across the floor.
The Piccadilly Theatre is a slightly jaded building packed into the space behind Shaftsbury Avenue. The Royal Circle has a rake so steep you almost need crampons; the seats are so low you are in danger of getting DVT and the velveteen is desperately in need of replacement. That said, the staff are very welcoming and helpful while the bar prices are no worse than any other West End theatre

http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

01/08/2018

Autumn 2018 in Leicester's Theatres


Autumn Line-up in Leicester Theatres

Curve
Leicester’s award winning theatre has a myriad of shows on between now and Christmas. Curve Youth Theatre’s latest production is Fiddler on The Roof (10-19 August). Another original Curve production is Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual (26 Sept – 6 Oct). As usual there are a brace of shows for the Christmas period. This year is Made at Curve’s White Christmas (6 Dec – 13 Jan) and also Made at Curve’s Dr Seuss’s The Cat in The Hat (8 Dec – 12 Jan). Coming up we are also blessed with being the first stop on the national tour of Les Miserables (3-24 Nov) and a stopoff for Cilla, the Musical (9-13 Oct). Inbetween there are loads of one nighters and several touring shows.
Full details of all shows can be found at www.curveonline.co.uk/whats-on

Upstairs at The Western
Upstairs’s autumn season is proving to be another packed schedule of  old favourites and new productions. Monthly treats are once again Film Noir (taking over from the popular Silent Cinema nights), Uncle Armando, Find The Right Words, Drag Queen Bingo, Choir Night and the ever popular Comedy Workshop. Levered in the gaps between the regular nights are a wide variety of poetry, plays and  standup comedy.
Full details can be found at www.upstairsatthewestern.com/whats-on

The Little Theatre
Again this wonderful home to Leicester amateur theatre has a full programme of visiting and home grown shows for the autumn. Among the delights in store are Blithe Spirit, Cats, Little Shop of Horrors, Spamalot and the LDS annual pantomime, this year Mother Goose.

Haymarket Theatre
Since reopening earlier this year this hidden gem has contented itself with a wide variety of corporate events and one-nighters. But this autumn they are expanding their appeal and staging a couple of shows that run. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is the annual offering from LAOS (11-15th Sept) and Treasure Island adapted by Sandi & Jennifer Toksvig (13 Dec – 6 Jan), the Haymarket’s first home grown production
Full details at www.haytheatre.com/whats-on

05/07/2018

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.

http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/








02/07/2018

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 www.curveonline.co.uk

http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/









30/06/2018

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 www.nymt.org.uk/

http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/