Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen



Review by: Paul Towers, 9/1/20
Mame by Jerome Lawrence & Robert E Lee, music & lyrics by Jerry Herman based on the book by Patrick Dennis
Directed and choreographed by Nick Winston
Produced by Aria Entertainment & Ray Rackham
At Royal & Derngate, Northampton: 7 – 11 January 2020

“a hugely enjoyable romp”

Mame Dennis is the swinging, party loving aunt that any teenage boy would want and young Patrick Dennis, recently orphaned, gets just that when he is unceremoniously dumped on his only living relative. Mame is the epitome of the Roaring Twenties until the Depression leaves her penniless. Together with her ‘bosom buddy’ actress Vera Charles she sails through the peaks and troughs of life with an irrepressible joie de vivre trying her hand at an array of jobs to keep her and her nephew’s heads above water. Eventually she bags herself a rich husband, Beauregard (Darren Day) who, conveniently, falls to his death while mountain climbing leaving her a very rich widow. Newly solvent Mame resumes her hedonistic lifestyle, this time with Patrick’s son, Peter.
Jerry Herman fashioned a hugely enjoyable romp through various songs pushing Lawrence & Lee’s story along with both outrageous numbers like Bosom Buddies and more mawkish ditties like My Best Girl.
Having originated at the intimate Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester and currently enjoying a run at the relatively bijou Royal & Derngate in Northampton, director and choreographer Nick Winston has had to be very creative with the dance numbers. I would love to see this production transfer to a bigger stage to give full reign to the dance routines.
The cast is lead by Tracie Bennett as Mame and Harriet Thorpe as Vera Charles. Both of these ladies have bags of comedic experience which is put to good use here. Ms Thorpe would be in danger of upstaging any other actor besides Bennett. But the two of them spark off each other to great effect; Harriet is a mistress of the sly vocal inflection whereas Ms Bennett is great at physical slapstick. Together they are an unbeatable team. Tracie Bennett more than keeps up with the talented dance ensemble as she high kicks with the best of them in a series of glamorous outfits.
This production is a worthy tribute to Jerry Herman who died last month
So far the only ongoing tour date is to Salisbury Playhouse from 21 – 25th January but this show deserves to keep travelling. Catch it while you can.

Royal & Derngate



Review by: Paul Towers, 27/12/19
Aladdin by Eric Potts
Produced by Imagine Theatre
DeMontfort Hall – 14 December to 5 January 2020

“a solid, entertaining show suitable for all ages”

It’s Christmas, it’s Leicester and it’s DeMontfort Hall. It can only be one thing, the now annual treat from Imagine Theatre, the pantomime! Oh yes it is, oh no it isn’t!
It seems that every year the panto gets better and better. Last year it was Peter Pan and this year, obviously having been pleased with the flying effects, it is Aladdin, complete with flying carpet.
Christmas is the season to be jolly and by golly was DeMontfort Hall ringing with the boos for Abanazar, laughs at the Widow Twankie’s near-the-knuckle jokes and the obligatory sing-a-long. This was festive family entertainment for all the family.
This Aladdin is a very traditional pantomime written by master script writer, Eric Potts. It has all the key elements you want from a festive treat.
Right from the start Abanazar (boy band Blue’s Anthony Costa) has the audience hissing and booing as he rips into Leicester, the football team and some of the more salubrious local areas. He is very effective as the villain of the night and is the butt of a running joke throughout.
Local lass Sam Bailey, making her third appearance in panto at DeMontfort Hall, is So Shi, lady in waiting to Princess Jasmine and eventual wife of the Emperor. This time round she is given full reign to show off her amazing singing voice as well as showcasing her comedy skills.
When it comes to comedy Dame Widow Twankey (Leicester Radio’s own Martin Ballard) and Wishee Washee (BGT’s Paul Burling) make a very effective double act keeping the laughs going from curtain up to curtain down including a charming routine involving 4 youngsters from the audience.
Aladdin is played by young magician Matthew Pomeroy and he is given the opportunity to show off his not inconsiderable magic skills throughout the show, especially using Princess Jasmine (Natasha Lamb).
CBBC’s Nathan Connor is a rapping Genie partnered with Gabriella Polchino as the Spirit of The Ring. The cast is filled out with young local dancers.
Once again Imagine Theatre has come up with a solid, entertaining show suitable for all ages. A lot of the one liners will go over youngsters’ heads but there is nothing to provoke awkward questions at a later date.
Aladdin runs until Saturday 5th January and there is a special relaxed performance on Thursday 2nd January at 1pm. Some tickets are still available for most dates.

DeMontfort Hall -


Giraffes can't dance

Review by: Paul Towers, 12/12/19
Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae & Guy Parker-Rees, adapted by Julia Thomas & Tasha Taylor Johnson
Produced by Curve, Rose Original Productions & Simon Friend.
At Curve: 19 – 31 December 2019

“Huge fun for kids of all ages”

Once again Curve has teamed up with The Rose Theatre, Kingston for its annual children’s Christmas show. After the success of previous productions of  The Cat in the Hat, George’s Marvellous Medicine and The Witches this year’s offering is Giraffes Can’t Dance based on the book of the same name.
Gerald the giraffe (Sophie Coward) has always wanted to go to the annual Jungle Dance but, being all long legs and even longer neck, is never going to make it past week one of Strictly. However a wise and friendly cricket, (Phyllis Ho) persuades Gerald to grasp the moment and, with the help from his Jungle Friends (Joshua Coley, Gracia Rios & Jason Yeboa) he finally finds his mojo.
This is an all singing, all dancing 55 minute show for every kid from 2 upwards. At today’s Press launch the audience covered the entire spectrum of ages and abilities with Curve’s very versatile studio space making room for several wheelchairs on the front row. Huge fun was had by all.
The cast work incredibly hard, not only on stage but beforehand as they gee up the kiddies so they are accepted before the show even starts. It meant that the audience were well versed in cheering and clapping and shouting out when needed.
The script includes loads of animal puns for the adults, an original score, many costume changes and a whole barrel of audience interaction.
Giraffes Can’t Dance is on until 31st December. STOP PRESS Run extended til 5th January

First published on Western Gazette


West Side Story

Review by: Paul Towers, 28/11/19
West Side Story, book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
A Made At Curve production directed by Nikolai Foster
At Curve: 23 Nov – 11 Jan 2020

“a huge, lively, energetic dose of 1950’s New York”

First produced in 1957 by Jerome Robbins, West Side Story is inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Two disparate communities, native New Yorkers and immigrant Puerto Ricans, battle each other for turf rights. Testosterone boils over and violence ensues. In 1961 it was filmed as a full blown musical to great acclaim. It has been revived countless times and, in these troubled days of out-of-control knife crime in major cities across the country, it is sadly still very relevant.
Star-crossed lovers Maria and Tony fall for each other despite the enmity of their respective communities. They sneak around surreptitiously, cementing their bond but the violence inevitably comes between them and tragedy strikes, boldly having the curtain fall without a customary happy ending.
The set by Michael Taylor, is a huge three storey edifice of apartments above a diner which rolls in and out. Most of the rest of the set consists of a huge rubbish dump signifying the downmarket state of the neighbourhood and a number of wire fences that create corridors and cages.
Director Nikolai Foster has created a violent, poverty stricken corner of New York where gang violence is the norm.
You would be forgiven for thinking that this all sounds very downbeat and depressing. Of course, like many inner city areas, a lot of the time life is hard. But the story is enlivened with some great comedy routines. Anita, Rosalie and Conseula’s (Carly Mercedes Dyer, Mireia Mambo & Abigail Climer) rendition of America is outstanding combining comedy and high energy Latin American dancing. Both Maria and Tony (Adriana Ivelisse and Jamie Muscato) have superb singing voices and Ivelisse handles the comedy in her character very well.
However, the superlative number for me was Gee, Officer Krupke, superbly choreographed as a burlesque routine in front of the curtain by Action, Diesel, Big Deal, Baby John and A-Rab (Isaac Gryn, Michael O’Reilly, Dale White, Alex Christian and Ryan Anderson respectively).
Once again the production benefited form the addition of members of the Curve Young Company who have provided two teams of actors to supplement the main cast
The choreography by Ellen Kane is balletic and very energetic while the creative lighting by Guy Hoare is both atmospheric and, in the Krupke routine, almost a character in itself! Kudos should also go to fight director Kevin McCurdy for very realistic combat routines.
As is pointed out on the flyers this story contains violence and themes that may be unsuitable for children.
West Side Story runs at Curve until 11th January 2020. There are special Access Performances throughout the run. Full details are on the website.



Mary Poppins

Review by: Paul Towers, 21/11/19
Mary Poppins written by PL Travers and Julian Fellowes
Music and lyrics by Richard M Sherman, Robert B Sherman, George Stiles & Anthony Drewe
Directed by Richard Eyre & Matthew Bourne. Produced by Disney & Cameron Mackintosh
At Curve: 1 Jan – 3 March 2020

“This is 24 carat Disney gold.”

There have been a couple of fairly negative reviews of this production of Mary Poppins, so I was a little dubious about whether I would enjoy it. After stumbling out into the crowded streets of Soho on a damp Thursday after a matinee I think The Stage reviewer should take his churlish, bitchy review and shove it up one of Bert’s chimney stacks! This is 24 carat Disney gold. From the moment the curtain rises on Cherry Tree Lane and the departure of the last in a long line of disgruntled nannies to the gob smacking sight of Mary Poppins flying sedately across the stage and then  up and over the heads of the audience up into the Grand Circle I was spellbound.
The cast are practically perfect with Zizi Strallen taking on the role of the magical nanny last played by her sister Scarlett 11 years ago. The entire Strallen family are ridiculously talented and dominate the world of West End musicals. Magnificently paired with Ms Strallen is newly minted Charlie Stemp, rapidly becoming the go-to actor for all round musical roles that allow him to display his great dancing abilities and comic timing. And, at last, an authentic Londoner to dismiss the horros of Dick Van Dyke’s mockney accent. The children, of course, are central to the show and five rotating pairs are marshalled into their correct places by various mentors in the adult cast. But their vocals need no nannying as they were word perfect. High comedy is provided by the cook, Mrs Brill (Claire Machin) and footman Robertson Ay (Jack North).
The set is an ingenious combination of a large square edifice that rotated and unfolded like an origami box as the Banks’ house;  one side the front of the house, the other side the kitchen. This was a miracle of design and execution as it had to also hide a myriad of magical tricks and effects reminiscent of the dirty bedroom scene from the film. The children’s attic bedrooms floated down from above and also formed the base of the rooftops complete with chimney stacks up which Mary and various sweeps popped.
The story owes much more to the original books than the film and there are some dark moments. Several characters have been introduced and several left out so don’t expect it to be a carbon copy of the film.
Charlie Stemp’s Bert the sweep acts as narrator and is used to push the narrative along. He also provides tiny vignettes to cover scene changes. In the script there is a lovely tribute to the original Mary Poppins, Julie Andrews, with the nasty nanny being called Miss Andrews. The audience got the joke immediately.
As with so many West End shows these days there is a small element of stunt casting. 80’s singing star, 84 year old  Petula Clark, is The Bird Lady. She is barely on stage for more than 3 minutes in total and could so easily have been played by a member of the ensemble. However, it was nice for those of us old enough to remember her in her heyday to see her one last time.
At the moment Mary Poppins is booking until May 2020. Highly recommended for the young and young at heart.

Prince Edward Theatre: