Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

16/12/2016

Gilbert (no Sullivan)


Review by: Paul Towers, 16 December 2016
Gilbert (no Sullivan) by WS Gilbert adapted by Brian Mitchell & Joseph Nixon
The Foundry Group – David Mountfield & Brian Mitchell
Upstairs @ The Western, 16 & 17 December 2016

“Victorian comic stories”

It is entirely appropriate that my last review for this year and under the old guard at Upstairs at The Western should be for the renowned and very popular Foundry Group. In what has become an annual treat for playgoers at The Western we have had our taste buds tickled by uproarious tales of wrestlers, Henry VIII, magnificent flyers and now dear old Sir William Schwenck Gilbert, the lyricist half of  Gilbert and Sullivan.
I for one didn’t realise that, prior to his musical collaborations with Mr Sullivan, Gilbert was a prodigious writer of  tall tales, comic rants and parodic reviews as a means of making ends meet.
The Foundry Group have maintained their high standard by collating five of his more outrageous tales from the latter half of the 19th century and adapted them for two actors. These Victorian comic stories were published in the magazines of the day and proved very popular, especially when accompanied by Gilbert’s own illustrations.
In David Mountfield and Brian Mitchell this production has two very able character actors who are very at home with a variety of accents and quick costume changes. Watching these sketches one can clearly see where modern performers like Tommy Cooper, Tony Hancock and Benny Hill got their inspiration from. Accompanied by hilariously bad ‘special effects’ and more awful props than a Play School toy box this is an hilarious evening of fun that you can take even your maiden aunt to.
There are still a few tickets available for Saturday night’s performance and I would urge you to grab one if you can.
Tickets for Saturday at www.upstairsatthewestern.com
Full details of future dates are at www.foundrygroup.co.uk
First published on Western Gazette and London Pub Theatres

14/12/2016

The Twits


Review by: Paul Towers, 14 December 2016
The Twits by Roald Dahl, adapted by David Wood
A Curve and Rose Theatre Kingston co-production
Curve – 10 December to 15 January

“a wonderful annual tradition”

In what is becoming a wonderful annual tradition at Curve yet another Roald Dahl story is brought to life in the studio space. This year, after the astounding success last year of The Witches, we have The Twits. This is the tale of two of the horrible-ist, dirtiest, most loathsome people who, not being bothered to work like normal people, decide to exploit a family of monkeys who they have captured deep in the rain forest and trained to perform tricks.
This production is jam packed full of audience participation, circus skills, songs and gross jokes. The perfect Roald Dahl story!
A small cast of seven bounce around the set playing instruments, singing and dancing.
The set, a caravan, starts off as a storage container as the talented cast whip the audience up into a participation frenzy. As soon as the action starts the sides fall away to reveal the cess pit that is The Twits barely habitable home.
The script is adapted by acclaimed children’s author David Wood (who also adapted The Witches) and is perfect holiday fare for children of all ages.
Tickets are available at http://www.curveonline.co.uk/
First published on Western Gazette

09/11/2016

Layla's Room



@pubtheatre1 Review by: Paul Towers, 09 November 2016
Layla’s Room by Sabrina Mahfouz
A Theatre Centre production with Shanice Sewell, Alex Stedman and Emma White, directed by Natalie Wilson
Upstairs @ The Western, 09 November 2016

“a beautiful rollercoaster of a teen life.”

In an attempt to get inside the mind of a modern inner city teenage girl author Sabrina Mahfouz trawled through a national survey of a thousand UK teens. The result is Layla’s Room the often exaggerated world of a digital girl growing up in this fast paced, sometimes skewed society of pay gaps, thigh gaps, pop stars, selfies that are Photoshopped and all the angst these produce.
Layla lives with her gay mother, her brother and her mother’s girlfriend in a tower block. The prospect of moving to a ‘normal’ house with just two floors and a garden fills her with dread. As she packs up the last few boxes of her stuff she reflects on the events that lead to this upheaval.
The set, designed by Ele Slade,  is an ambitious geometric wire frame hung with line drawings of the view from the tower block. The floor reflects this Japanese-influenced design and provides an ideal base for the choreographed moves required to move the simple boxes around to make rooms and locations. Credit must also go to sound designer Elena Pena whose unobtrusive background noises easily anchor the various locations and also provide a reinforcement of various plot points.
Shanice Sewell as Layla leads the production as the confused, ambitious but ultimately bullied teen of the title. Alex Stedman plays all the male roles with an assuredness that belies his years and Emma White has her hands full with various female characters that again are a credit to her youth..
Mahfouz’s script is a beautiful rollercoaster of tears, tantrums, comedy and crisis that make up the average teenagers hormonally challenged life.
Layla’s Room is on tour. Full details at http://www.theatre-centre.co.uk/


Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
First published on Western Gazette
and on Pub Theatre Blog

28/10/2016

Julian Clary


Review by: Paul Towers, 28 October 2016
Julian Clary – The Joy of Mincing
Curve 28 October 2015

“revels in every glorious opportunity to shock.”

Back in the 80’s I used to run a famous pub in South London called The Goldsmith Tavern, the starting place for many famous comedians including Vic Reeves, Rory Bremner and the inimitable Julian Clary, then known as The Joan Collins Fan Club, much to the Dame’s displeasure. Reverting to his real name Clary has garnered a reputation unique to him.
For his 30th anniversary of clambering onto a stage to entertain a room full of punters, Clary is in the middle of a nationwide tour bringing joy and outrage to us ordinary folk.
As he narrates tit bits from his illustrious career we are treated to rather more detail of his unexpurgated life than perhaps some would want. His drug taking is an especially unedifying period of his younger life but is told in all its gory detail as a lesson to the unworldly.
As is to be expected Clary shies well away from a double entendre when a single one is available and revels in every glorious opportunity to shock while shamelessly namedropping everyone from Paul O’Grady right up to Dame Joan Collins.
Julian Clary’s The Joy of Mincing is out on tour throughout the autumn. Full details at http://julianclary.co.uk/


11/10/2016

The Importance of Being Earnest


Review by: Paul Towers, 11 October 2016
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
A Curve and Birmingham Rep co-production
Curve 6 – 29 October

“beautifully rhythmic prose”

Watching an Oscar Wilde play you are guaranteed an evening of sparkling wit and including, in the case of Earnest, virtually every notable quote Wilde is remembered for.
However, in this revival Curve’s Director Nikolai Foster and designer Isla Shaw have ramped up the sparkle to an almost parodical level whereby the set almost outshines the dialogue. The stage is lined, side to side, top to bottom with mirrored panes meaning there is nowhere to hide from the razor sharp epithets and aphorisms of Wildean wit. It also illustrates perfectly the inherent narcissism, decadence and vanity of the world of Earnest and his companions. While the manners and furniture are Victorian the costumes are an interesting melange of period and modern sensibilities which sits perfectly with the set.
This comedy of manners relies heavily on every phrase being enunciated, projected and audible to every member of the audience and this cast made sure every line was heard clearly.
There is something beautifully rhythmic about the prose which means that all the laughs seem to be written into the text and the actors rarely have to pause and wait for the audience to stop laughing.
While Edward Franklin’s fey, dissolute Algy and Fela Lufadeju’s John Worthing are the central characters of the story it was Cathy Tyson’s Lady Bracknell we were all holding our breath waiting for. Would she do an Edith Evans or a David Suchet when it came to THAT line? Well I am pleased to say that Ms Tyson copied no-one and made the handbag line her very own with a fabulous sense of outraged conservatism. As the leading (young) ladies of the piece Martha Washington and Sharan Phull as Gwendolen and Cecily are a joy to watch as they vacillate between outrage at being deceived and their desire to marry their beaus. Angela Clerkin’s prissy Miss Prism throws herself around in faux outrage as her past deceits find her out. Each of the characters are explicitly drawn and none are wasted. Even Darren Bennett’s Merriman’s largely silent butler gets unwritten laughs from a raised eyebrow or a sigh. While Dominic Gately’s Dr Chasuble channels his inner camp to bring the pastor to life.
Scene changes were beautifully choreographed utilising the many doors set within the mirrors and the interval, much like a television commercial break, merely paused the action while the audience caught its breath.
This is a production not to be missed and deserves to tour forever

The Importance of Being Earnest runs at Curve until 29 October.
Full details available at Curve website
First published in Western Gazette














10/10/2016

The Pajama Game


Review by: Paul Towers, 24/8/2015
The Pajama Game by George Abbot & Richard Bissell
The IDOLS
The Little Theatre 10 – 15th October

“an undemanding evening of musical theatre”

The Pajama Game (and yes, that spelling is right) is not a taxing story. If I tell you that the film starred Doris Day you can guess the level of  saccharine and hearts and roses.
The story revolves around a labour dispute whereby the workers in a pajama manufacturing factory are up in arms because the management won’t give them a 7½c payrise in line with other companies. To complicate things the Grievance Committee head and the new Supervisor fall in love.
While the story might be quite slight the songs are mostly very taxing to perform. There are several standards amongst the soundtrack, namely Hey There, Once A Year Day and Hernando’s Hideaway. But most of the rest, and there are a full 21 numbers aside from the overture and ent’act, are very demanding to sing.
The IDOLS (Leicester’s Infirmary Dramatic Operatic and Literary Society) have long had a reputation for producing classic standard musicals for the last 60 years as a means of fund raising for various medical causes. So it is no surprise that they have chosen to resurrect this 1950’s musical.
The entire cast are incredibly talented and have been working all year for this, their annual offering at The Little Theatre. Jodie Blowfield and Vaughan Ashcroft as Babe and Sid have both the singing voices and stage presence to lead the company while Martin Bell as Hines and Debbie Neath as Mabel have great comic routines together. Jordan Handford as Prez is superbly, creepily pervy.
Unfortunately this great cast was let down by persistent sound issues with microphones not coming on in time and feedback . On top of this the orchestra, which I assume is all amateur and led by experienced Musical Director Tony Rifugiato (who should know better), had a very duff trombone player on the brass section who missed many notes and those he did hit were invariably flat!
Hopefully these problems can be ironed out as the week progresses.
But all in all this is an undemanding evening of musical theatre that comes to us straight from the 50’s and thus won’t offend your maiden aunt and won’t tax your intellect.

First published on Western Gazette

04/10/2016

Yes Prime Minister


Review by: Paul Towers, 04 October 2016
Yes, Prime Minister by Antony Jay & Jonathan Lynn
Leicester Drama Society production
Little Theatre 3 – 8 October 2016

“theatre heaven.”

Oh joy! This is a seriously funny piece of political satire that, even though it was written in 2011, still resonates today and continues to puncture the pomposity and obsequiousness of parliament and the civil service with very few updates. In fact some references have accidentally become hilariously appropriate.
Right from the moment the metaphorical curtain rises the snappy one liners tumble forth and the laughs never stop.
The story is all about a weekend at Chequers where the PM is entertaining the Kumranistan ambassador with a view to signing a major oil deal which will save the EU from bankruptcy. As the weekend progresses PM Jim Hacker ties himself up in every tighter knots, some of his own making but many of Sir Humphrey’s.
As Hacker gets progressively more frustrated and bogged down Sir Humphrey steps in to try and diffuse the situation with his impenetrable business-speak obscurations designed to confuse but not clarify.
Yet another beautiful set design by Alec Davis of an old country study, oak panelled with bookcases and French windows allows for the obligatory farcical entrances and exits while a large screen on the back wall is used to good effect for news footage and the credits.
A very strong cast is led by David Lovell as Jim Hacker, Charles Moss as Sir Humphrey and Joff Brown as Bernard Wooley. Moss, in particular, garnered several personal, well deserved rounds of applause for getting his tongue round several of Sir Humphrey’s ambiguous, incomprehensible and positively obfuscated soliloquies.
For those of us that remember the 80’s when this was on TV this is theatre heaven; a sharp script with very familiar characters perfectly preformed to a very appreciative audience. What more can you ask for an evening’s theatre?
Yes, Prime Minister is on at Little Theatre until Saturday 8 October
Full details at www.thelittletheatre.net/

First published on Western Gazette

03/10/2016

The Shawshank Redemption


Review by: Paul Towers, 03 October 2016
The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King, Owen Neill & Dave Johns
A Bill Kenwright Production
Curve, 3rd – 8th October 2016

“a powerful production.”

First off, I have to admit I have never seen the film that this play is based on so I have gone into this with no preconceptions and a completely open mind. All I knew was that it was set in a prison.
The curtain rises to three naked men standing with only a small package of their personal effects to cover their vulnerability. These are new prisoners, fresh meat for the predatory older lags. The set is a suitably industrial looking combination of steel girders and iron plates serving as the various prison interiors. This is Shawshank, an American penitentiary in the late 1960’s, a violent, dog-eat-dog environment into which is thrust Andy Dufresne, wrongly convicted of  the murder of his wife and her boyfriend.
This is not a play for the easily offended as the first 20 minutes include no end of profanity, violence and male rape. Add into this mix the inherently corrupt prison officers and it is easy to see how the entire community verges on the precipice of turning feral at any moment.
The three main roles are Andy Dufresne, played by Paul Nicholls, Warden Stammas, played by Jack Ellis and Ellis ‘Red’ Redding, played by Ben Onwukwe. These are the characters who tell the story and should be strongly cast for the pivotal roles they play. As this production is without the benefit of personal amplification it is incredibly important that the actors can project and enunciate so that even the gallery can hear them.
In this case it was abundantly obvious that Messrs Ellis and Onwukwe were trained stage actors. Paul Nicholls is not. In many instances his mumbling, probably a habit picked up from his days as a TV actor, meant much of his dialogue was missed by anyone not in the front two rows. Fortunately much of his character’s role is to be the calm at the centre of the storm as the drama unfolds around him.
However, that aside, this is a powerful production of a damning indictment of the American prison system at the time.
While this sounds as though it is unremittingly downbeat there are plenty of little laughs inserted to lift the mood, as is to be expected when you realise the adaptors, Owen Neill and Dave Johns are both stand up comedians.
The Shawshank Redemption runs at Curve until Sat 8th October and then continues on tour until the end of the year
First published on Western Gazette









29/09/2016

Upstairs at The Western




 This week I met up with Sally Jack of Upstairs at The Western and asked her about the news that she, Gary and Verity are handing over the reins of the pub theatre to new blood.

What were your aims in the beginning when you started the theatre? We wanted to create a professional performance space that was accessible to a diverse community, and with shows that followed our mission of programming brave, inspiring and engaging performances.  We also wanted it create a space where the local community could feel it was their theatre, and an extension of the wonderful atmosphere created downstairs in The Western.

Have you achieved all you wanted with Upstairs at The Western? Yes and no; we never thought we'd be where we are now when we first programmed the pilot season back in March 2013, with a makeshift stage built on empty beer barrels. It has taken many, many hours of many people's time - freely given - to get the venue to where it is now, along with invaluable support from Steamin' Billy Brewery Company Ltd, Leicester City Council and Westcotes Community First. We've built up a loyal and knowledgeable audience through a team of dedicated volunteers. There is still a lot that can be done though, and a new team can bring fresh eyes and ideas to the space.

What are you most proud of? Which productions? Difficult question as there have been so many wonderful shows! In terms of really satisfying moments,  seeing the comedy workshoppers overcome their fears and create and perform stand up routines to a paying audience has been great. Welcoming performers like Dave Bartram, Geoffrey Holland and Cathy Tyson to the venue has been thrilling and brilliant fun. Overall though, my own satisfaction comes from sitting up at the back of the theatre, watching a show, the lights coming up once the performance has ended and hearing the audience talk about what they've just experienced. A shared experience. 

What do you hope for the future of the theatre? We hope that people will continue to come and be entertained, whatever direction that takes, that it will continue to grow and firmly embed itself into the fabric of Leicester's West End.

Is Steaming Billy committed to supporting the theatre in the future? They have been a great support so far and are keen for the venue to continue; it is such a unique and valuable asset to the pub and the area.

Why have you decided to move on? We, that is Gary, Verity and myself, feel we have gone as far as we can with the venue. Lives change and it is such a big commitment to maintain the standards we have set ourselves. Much as it feels like a big wrench at the moment, we hope to see the venue thrive and flourish with a new team, whoever they may be. This is a great opportunity to develop the space - whether that is continuing to programme theatre, comedy, spoken word and music which all work so well, or to focus on a new direction - but this will be something for the new team to embrace and develop. 

What sort of people are you looking to take over the reins?  Of course, we hope someone with a love of performance and the arts will come forward, but if anyone is interested in finding out more about the theatre and what's involved, come along to the public meeting at the venue on Tuesday 11 October at 7.30pm.

First published in Western Gazette

22/09/2016

Pajama Men


Review by: Paul Towers, 22 September 2016
2 Man 3 Muskateers by Pajama Men
Soho Theatre production
Curve 22 & 23 Sptember

“2 men, 1 musician and a whole load of mayhem.”

A bare stage with a pianist tinkling on his ivories as we walk in is no indication of the bizarre world we are about to stumble into. What we get is 2 men, 1 musician and a whole load of mayhem. This is the result of Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez’s weird and wonderful imaginations being let loose (and I mean loose) on Alexandra Dumas’ iconic story of The Three Muskateers.
As these two American legends of improv have proved in countless comedy festivals around the world, there is no limit to what they think (and do) get away with when it comes to bending traditional narrative round corners, curve balls and any kind of logic.
As a result we spend an hilarious hour trying to unscramble the tale of three French renegades while mixed up with centaurs, cardinals and who knows what other characters they have made up purely to add a laugh to the script.
Add into this is their razor sharp ad libs and asides, both to the audience and themselves. Several times we could see as they tried to corpse each other and failing miserably, so professional are this pair of  veteran performers.
While the actors are acting away at the front of Curve’s Studio space their musician is having his own fun with all sorts of weird and wonderful instruments.
Altogether this is a fun evening of surreal silliness that leaves you with a very nice smile on your face.
Pajama Men is on at Curve again on Friday 23rd September and then on tour. Details on www.pajama-men.com
First published on Western Gazette

16/09/2016

Undermined


Review by: Paul Towers, 16 September 2016
Undermined by  Danny Mellor
A Danny Mellor Presents production
Upstairs @ The Western, 16th September

“Mellor balances the narrative deftly.”

On 18 June 1984 the notorious miners strike came to a heady climax in a bloody confrontation between flying pickets and the police at Orgreave, South Yorkshire.
Undermined is the story of 4 friends from an unspecified South Yorkshire village caught up in the ongoing conflict that saw communities, neighbours and families fractured and ostracised for supporting the ‘wrong side’.
Danny Mellor is an actor, writer and director who has compiled this fictional account from the testimonies of those who took part in the conflict. Against a soundtrack of curiously appropriate music from the 80’s Mellor peoples the stage with the miners of the doomed pits with prose that is both structured and emotive. While much of the sorry tale is full of anger and bile there are welcome splashes of humour to lighten the story.
Our journey starts with the news that some pits have become uneconomical and will have to close. The natural anger at the potential decimation of old established communities and industries is directed singularly at the Government of the day. Flying pickets, riled to boiling point by the Unions, are shipped to various sites around the country to prevent the pits being worked in defiance of  Union orders. The ultimate result of this action is the awful casualty strewn mess that was ‘The Battle of Orgreave’.
Danny Mellor proves himself to be an accomplished actor both emotionally and physically as he switches from well defined character to well defined character as well as throwing himself around the stage as battles with police and other miners occur.
This could so easily have been a very left wing, Thatcher-bashing diatribe in blind support of the unions but Mellor balances the narrative deftly with intimations that the cause was highjacked by the Government in an effort to smash the absolute power of the Unions in much the same way that some elements in the Unions were hoping to bring down Mrs Thatcher
Undermined is on tour until at least October

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
First published on Pub Theatre Blog 
and Western Gazette

12/09/2016

And then there were none


Review by: Paul Towers, 12 September 2016
And  Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Leicester Drama Society production
Little Theatre 12 – 17 September

“Agatha Christie thriller”

And Then There Were None is a pretty standard Agatha Christie thriller; a select number of people (in this case 10) stranded in an isolated locations (here an hotel on an island) all with secrets. One by one they are discounted (this time by their untimely deaths) until there is only one. But is the one the one?
Leicester Drama Society (LDS) has a fine record for putting on thrillers and light fluffy romantic pieces. This Christie, a very popular play on the amateur circuit due to its single set, has a nice mix of characters, some more fully drawn than others.
The title comes from a children’s nursery rhyme hanging in a frame above a set of decorative soldiers. The figurines disappear one by one as the various victims are despatched. Starting with ten little soldiers the final two are all that is left as the murderer is revealed. My only grouse is that, having been engrossed in the recent BBC adaptation, I did remember who dunnit. However  that didn’t spoil my enjoyment unduly.
When the original book was published in 1939 it was called Ten Little N******s in the UK but And Then There Were None in the US where, even then, the ‘N’ word was considered unsavoury. Even when it was changed to Ten Little Indians it was soon decided this was still not inoffensive enough and so the current title was adopted from the US publication.
As is usual with LDS productions the standard of acting is very high from a cast that, year after year, we see in a wide variety of roles. A great single set depicting the hotel’s sea view lounge is all that is needed as the claustrophobia of the situation ramps up. It would be unfair to single out any of the actors as this is very much an ensemble piece ably directed by resident bossy boots, John Bale.
And Then There Were None is on until 17 September

First published on Western Gazette

09/09/2016

Garden


Review by: Paul Towers, 9/9/16
Garden by Lucy Grace
A How Small How Far Production
Upstairs @ The Western, 9th & 10th September 2016

“ Acutely observed and beautifully acted.”

For so many of us the grinding monotony of a mindless office job is just one of those things we have to grin and bear to put food on the table and a roof over our head.
Lucy is stuck in that unfulfilling cycle of mind numbing drudgery at Insignia Asset Management where the only assets she manages are the photocopier, printer, scanner, shredder and binder. Day in day out she catches the 8am train London Bridge, is squashed between the same 80 odd sweating, swaying bodies as the packed train rattles over the unending points of South East London. Then it is back home on the 7pm from London bridge to her 24th floor tower block flat and an empty life. That is until one day when she decides to liberate the office pot plant and suddenly a vibrant, fulfilling life emerges as she creates a garden paradise to return her rescued herbage to the wild. Along the way she befriends a pigeon called Colin and goes upcycling with an abandoned supermarket trolley to populate her high rise shelter.
Written and performed by How Small How Far founding member Lucy Grace, this is a sweet tale of a neurotic office worker stuck in a boring job. Acutely observed and beautifully acted this is a paean to those millions of bored wage slaves stuck in the rut of a boring office.
Full details available at http://www.howsmallhowfar.co.uk

Firts published on Western Gazette and Pub Theatre Guide

30/08/2016

Footloose The Musical


Review by: Paul Towers, 30 August 2016
Footloose The Musical by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie
Produced by Sell A Door Theatre Company & Runaway Entertainment
Curve 29 Aug to 3 September

“Holding out for …?.”

In recent years there has been a trend for adapting popular films into stage musicals. Often it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Footloose, the 1984 film, is the archetypal date movie; a romantic, good out of towner versus bigoted small towner, with a soundtrack of poppy 1980’s hits. The stage version should be an ideal girls-night-out fun show that you come away from humming the tunes and feeling all warm inside.
The story is fairly slight, a boy and his mother move from Chicago to Bomont, a fly spot on the map of America’s mid west. There they are stunned to find that dancing is forbidden and the boy sets about overturning this archaic law. On the way he discovers love.
So where does it all go so horribly wrong?
This mish mash of a catastrophe takes all the good bits from the film and dilutes them with down beat, dirges of ballads and a storyline of domestic violence and good ole southern bible bashing. The whole thing lurches from high to low like a pedestrian roller coaster. It was a good 20 minutes into the production that it livened up even a little.
As is so often the case with modern musicals the cast are expected to sing, dance and play instruments. In Footloose The Musical the talented cast do all three to the best of their ability with the material they are given but most of the songs only elicited a barely polite round of applause. The exceptions were the known numbers from the film, Footloose, Holding Out For a Hero and Let’s Hear it For The Boy.
As the plot stumbles from one dirge to another there are thankfully small comedic moments from a surprising source. Gareth Gates, he of Pop Idol fame, lurches on, zombie-like and overacting like mad, as the local dumb yokel who befriends newcomer Ren McCormack, ably played by Luke Baker, shows a nicely developing sense of comedy with some amusing self deprecating lines about speech impediments.  However these occasional bright spots, like glimpses of blue sky amongst the storm clouds of an autumn day, were never enough to lift the tone.
As the second half wended its weary way towards the end there was one final obstacle for us, the patient audience, to overcome. Just as the finale built to its limp crescendo a technical fault prevented the front cloth from rising on cue. I felt it may very well have been divine intervention and someone somewhere was trying to tell us to go home before depression set in or maybe the mechanics had just died of embarrassment. But then, after a 5 minute break, the lights went back down, the music started again, the curtain behaved itself and we were finally into the home stretch. At last there was life in the audience as the medley of the memorable hits signalled the final bows and we could at last escape, never to recapture those lost hours.

First published in Western Gazette

24/08/2016

Bugsy Malone


Review by: Paul Towers, 24 August 2016
Bugsy Malone by Alan Parker and Paul Williams
A Curve Community Production
Curve 19 – 28 August

“wondrously fun night out”

Where to begin? This has to be one of the funniest, energetic, feel good shows on any stage any time.
With a cast that is only aged 12 to 17, with the exception of  9yr old Amica Kuroda, the talent is unbelievable. Every single one of them sings, dances and acts their socks off.
Bugsy Malone is inspired by the antics of one Al Capone and Bugs Moran, notorious gangsters of 1920’s New York. Written in 1976 by Alan Parker, who went on to carve out a very successful career as a director of such seminal films as Midnight Cowboy, Fame and The Commitments, this proves that early on in his career that he could do musicals as well as heavy dramatic stories. His collaboration with renowned songwriter Paul Williams produced a hugely enjoyable show which still fills theatres after 40 years.
As he wanted specifically to cast teenagers for all the roles, thus adding a surreal element to the ‘blood and gore’, he had to find a way to sanitise the violence. This was achieved by the invention of ‘splurge guns’ which fired lethal doses of custard alongside the obligatory standard custard pies in lieu of bullets.
Under the direction of Curve’s Nick Winston we have a large cast of hugely talented local young performers filling a cleverly designed set by David Woodhead with the two gangs of old school villains vying for power in the city.
A slight storyline never gets in the way of great dance routines, hilarious one liners and an ultimately beautiful  love story between Bugsy and dancer Blousey.
If you manage to get a ticket before Sunday be warned that copious amounts of ‘custard’ end up on audience members throughout the stalls and you may even end up as part of the finale on stage in Fat Sam’s Grand Slam club
14 year old Joel Fossard-Jones is superb as Bugsy, while 15 year old Maeve Wood as Blousey  torch sings her way through the story.
The set is a series of gantries and stairs which, thanks to lighting designer Ben Cracknell, provides every backdrop the story needs. A huge  Japanese style framework provides a proscenium arch and front cloth upon which is projected all sorts of locations and animations. The onstage band, ranged round the back of the set, gives a depth to the sound which would be hard to replicate if it were in a pit.
All in all this is a wondrously fun night out that will leave you humming the songs as you walk home.

First published in Western Gazette

22/08/2016

Curve's Autumn/Winter 2016 Launch


Review by: Paul Towers, 24/8/2015
Curve Season Launch Autumn/Winter 2016
Curve Monday 22 August 2016

“Curve is a resounding sucess.”

With great fanfare and squatting on the Bugsy Malone set, Chris Stafford and Nikolai Foster were introduced onstage by local radio DJ Jim Davis (no, not THAT one!) who compered the event. With a huge TV screen above them showing promotional videos of some of the shows we can enjoy the two driving forces of Curve outlined their vision for the coming season and introduced us to all of the shows for this autumn and winter.
The proceedings opened with a number from Grease, this year’s big Christmas musical, sung by Cassie Compton who will be starring in next year’s first big musical, The Wedding Singer. Grease runs from 26 November to 14th January.
Next up was a discussion about the in house production of The Importance of Being Earnest running from 6th October to 29th October. This co-production with regular collaborators Birmingham Rep stars the awesome Cathy Tyson who was last in Leicester for She Called Me Mother at Upstairs at the Western in October last year. Ms Tyson came on stage for what was supposed to be an interview about her portrayal of Lady Bracknell but actually turned into a monologue master class on finding a character through rehearsal.
The next production to be discussed was the rock ‘n’ roll story of how four of the genre’s giants turned up at a studio by accident and spent a day making historic music. Million Dollar Quartet, narrated by Jason Donovan, runs from 14 to 24th September.
After the outstanding success of last year’s Roald Dahl’s The Witches, Curve is flicking through his canon again and serving up his The Twits for this years Christmas offering for all those who are young or at least young at heart. The Twits, again adapted by David Wood, runs from 10 December to 15 January.
Stopping off on its nationwide tour is perennial favourite Footloose which is on from 29 August til 3 September. Starring Gareth Gates and Maureen Nolan this an especial favourite for girls’ nights out.
Another touring production which will be well worth seeing is The Shawshank Redemption running from 3 to 8 October.
If you are in a romantic mood Pride and Prejudice runs from 18 – 22 October starring Mathew Kelly (yes, him off the telly) and Felicity Montague (yes, also off the telly) in a contemporary take on a classic but still of the period.
In between all these shows that run for more than a couple of days there is a myriad of one nighters from visiting artistes including stand ups, singers and, patriotically, a celebration of Her Majesty’s 90th birthday called Happy and Glorious on Sunday 2nd October
And of course we mustn’t forget the current Curve Community production Bugsy Malone running from 19 – 28 August in the main theatre.
We also had the pleasure of a performance of one of the stand out songs from Footloose by Luke Baker who plays Ren in the show
Chris Stafford, Chief Executive of Curve, proudly informed us that the theatre runs at an average of 80% capacity. That means that, on average, only 20% of seats remain unsold. A very creditable boast in the current economic climate. The other thing well worth boasting about is that in 2015 Curve touring productions played to an additional 250,000 people out on the road.
Curve has always prided itself on premiering shows like Breakfast at Tiffaney’s, Finding Neverland and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. This autumn it has been chosen to launch Burning Doors, an expose of Belarus’s appalling suppression of artistic freedom. Burning Doors is on from 23 – 27 August and we were treated to an interview with its director.
All in all Messrs Stafford and Foster can justifiably pat themselves on the back for not only attracting world class touring shows to Leicester but also for putting on so many productions that actually put bums on seats. Their first year in charge has proved a resounding success and long may their creative partnership continue.
Tickets for all shows can be found at http://www.curveonline.co.uk/whats-on/shows/
First published in Western Gazette

17/08/2016

Spring Awakening


Review by: Paul Towers, 17 August 2016
Spring Awakening by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik
Curve and National Youth Music Theatre production
Curve – 17–20 August 2016

“classy production”

Spring Awakening is based on the original 1891 book of the same name by Frank Wedekind. Set in late 19th century Germany this musical version by Sater & Sheik had a long and troubled gestation from the late 90’s until it finally burst onto Broadway in 2006 in full Tony-winning form and also won an Olivier in London’s West in 2009.
The show highlights many of the pitfalls of adolescence that are still valid to this day. Along the way it points the finger at a lack of parental instruction leading to unwanted pregnancies and wild misconceptions about the biological workings of teenage bodies.
There are two basic storylines running through the show; Melchior and Wendla’s blossoming romance leading to an unwanted pregnancy and Melchior’s incarceration in a reform school, unaware that he has a child coming with Wendla who dies after a botched abortion. Parallel to this is Melchior’s best friend, Moritz, whose vivid wet dreams are keeping him up all night and impacting on his school work. Failing his exams and feeling rejected by his family Moritz allows his depression to swamp him and shoots himself.
On a more positive note there are also a couple of nice little relationships that develop and blossom almost incidentally.
Once again Curve has teamed up with the National Youth Music Theatre to bring us a hugely talented bunch of young performers in a far from average production. With our very own Nikolai Foster directing, Takis designing and Lee Proud choreographing this was always going to be a classy production.
A quirky, sloped stage is reverse mirrored above by an offset gantry which is used to great effect to give the impression of various roofs and skies. A back wall of graffiti emphasises the impression given by the subliminal background noises of children playing out of social housing.
While the entire cast is spot on especial mention has to be made of  Toby Turpin as Moritz Stiefel and Nathanael Landskroner as Melchior Gabor. Both of these performers are to be watched and will, I guarantee, turn up on a West End stage very soon.
The songs, which invariably move the story along, are not the ‘hard’ rock I was expecting, many of the ballads reminding me of Boy George’s Taboo soundtrack, melodic and poignant. The singing was accompanied by a lively band of six up on the mezzanine of Curve’s Studio, augmented by another six of the onstage actors who also played instruments, a multi-talent that seems to be becoming a requisite in musicals these days.
It is so gratifying to see that there is a wealth of talent emerging from the various drama schools, colleges and universities around the country. Long may it continue
Spring Awakening is on at Curve until Saturday 20th August
First published on Western Gazette


11/08/2016

Sister Act - The Tour


Review by: Paul Towers, 11/08/16
Sister Act by Alan Menken, Glenn Slater and Cheri & Bill Steinkellner
A Curve and Jamie Wilson Co-production, directed by Craig Revel Horwood
Curve 30th July to 13 August 2016

“hosanna your way to a hugely enjoyable evening’s entertainment”

Once again Curve has cemented its growing reputation for producing great touring shows that premier here in Leicester.
Of course this is not a brand new show, it was premiered in 2006 in America, having been inspired by the 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg who also produced the London production in 2009.
Broadly following the plot of the film Deloris Van Cartier, a Vegas saloon singer with aspirations beyond her talent, witnesses a gangland killing by her abusive boyfriend and goes into a Police Protection programme. This entails her being secreted in a convent, much to the chagrin of the Mother Superior. Bored out her mind and causing havoc Deloris is put in charge of the abysmal church choir which she whips into nationally acclaimed shape. Thus bringing her to the attention of her erstwhile boyfriend who comes looking for her to silence her. Of course it all works out in the end; Deloris ends up with her dependable childhood sweetheart, the church is restored and the congregation swells to breaking point.
This show is almost fool-proof and virtually unbreakable so long as the cast can sing. Craig Revel Horwood, he of Strictly fame, has assembled a very talented cast who, mostly, sing, dance, act, do comedy and play instruments. Horwood signature is having instrumentalists on stage as part of the ensemble. In this case most of the main cast can play as well.
The set is a vast cloistered reception room that easily portrays the church and convent as well as various rooms.
All this would be for nothing, aesthetic as it is, if the main characters weren’t  strong enough and in Alexandra Burke as Deloris and Karen Mann as Mother Superior Revel Horwood has two very capable performers who match each other for comedy, pathos and great singing. Burke especially has a voice that will raise any church roof and propel it well up to its maker.
Sometimes when a comedy film is adapted for the stage the laughs are watered down but this production has every comedy line and moment from the beloved film and a whole lot more. Much is also made of the fact that the story is set in 1977. This allows some nice digs at the awful haircuts and fashions of the era as well as the dances. Poor John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever is a particular target.
In the unlikely event that you can get a ticket before it moves on, grab it and hosanna your way to a hugely enjoyable evening’s entertainment in the arms of our Lord.
Failing that make a special trip to see it on tour. Details at www.sisteractuktour.co.uk/

First published on Western Gazette

13/06/2016

9 to 5 The Musical


Review by: Paul Towers, 13 June 2016
9 to 5 by Dolly Parton & Patricia Resnick
Leicester Amateur Operatic Society
Curve Studio 13 – 19 June 2016

“Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5.”

Based on the film starring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, 9 to 5 is the story of 3 office girls in a 1980’s humdrum corporation headed up by a ‘sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical, bigot’ Franklin Hart Jnr.  The three girls, Violet, Judy and Doralee are pushed to the limit and fantasise about doing away with their boorish boss only to find that circumstances conspire to make his demise a real possibility. That leads, as they say, to hilarious consequences. Only in this show they don’t.
The leads, Debbie Longley as Violet, Lisa Heath as Judy, Mia Dobney as Doralee and Nick Cox as Hart do their best but the show is beset by a very uneven pace as the tempo constantly changes to facilitate the insertion of yet another song as the storyline veers from comedy to love story without doing either genre justice.
The ensemble perform perfectly adequately with a couple of nice dance routines but so much of the humour present in the film seems to have been lost in the translation to the stage.
As always LAOS, in conjunction with Curve, have got production values way beyond the average amateur show’s dreams; the costumes are varied and the cast change characters rapidly; there are huge revolving scenery blocks that become offices, bedrooms and studies.  A live band hidden behind the backdrop sometimes drowns out parts of some of the solo numbers but I think that has much to do with unbalanced head microphones. However, a new innovation, small speakers across the front of the footlights, does make the sound much clearer from the audience.
Despite Ms Dolly Parton herself making a guest appearance on film at the beginning and end of the show it didn’t really work for me. Maybe the old school chauvinism rankled a bit with this reviewer but the audience on the first night didn’t seem as enthusiastic as I would have expected.
It’s a shame as LAOS has a fine reputation, as last year’s Sister Act proved. But somehow 9 to 5 doesn’t cut the mustard for me.

First published on Western Gazette

09/06/2016

The Diary of a Hounslow girl


Review by: Paul Towers, 09 June 2016
The Diary of a Hounslow Girl by Ambreen Razia
Ambreen Razia & Black Theatre Live co-production
Upstairs @ The Western, 9 June 2016 and touring

“bold and funny”

Every teenager struggles through a rising tide of angst as they battle raging hormones and peer pressures in their journey to adulthood. But add into that maelstrom the complication of being a first generation Pakistani girl stuck in a small town in west London and you have some idea of the confusion and chaos that sixteen year old Shaheeda feels in the lead up to her sisters over the top traditional wedding.
Written and performed by the author this is Ambreen Razla’s first play and is both funny and bold in tackling the challenges in trying to balance being a good Muslim woman in the Western world. While exploring many of the trials and tribulations that all daughters face when conflicting with their mothers, this piece is also not afraid to tackle age old problems like not living up to a parent’s expectation, first love and broken dreams. Told in a mixture of teenage text-speak, Arabic and good old English this perfectly illustrates how Shaheeda is trying to juggle all her cultural influences.
While the last third could maybe be accused of tying up loose ends a bit too cleanly the laughs and tears are very well balanced. The writing is clever enough that not everything has to be spelled out too clearly and the audience has to work a little bit in places to put the pieces of the jigsaw together. This is no bad thing when often playwrights assume their audiences are too thick to work it out for themselves.
While the writing is masterful the acting is sublime and there was even one part when I caught a tear rolling down Razia’s face in a particularly emotional moment.
Full details of the tour can be found at www.ambreenrazia.com/www.ambreenrazia.com/

First published on Western Gazette

07/06/2016

The 39 Steps


Review by: Paul Towers, 07 June 2016
Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps adapted by Patrick Barlow
Fiery Angel & Tricycle London production
Curve 7 – 11 June 2016

“great, great, great theatre!”

John Buchan’s novel The 39 Steps was first published in 1915 as a cerebral thriller told from the hero, John Hannay’s, perspective as he traversed the awesome majesty of the Scottish Highlands. Not great film or theatre fodder. However the three resulting films transformed the basic story into the entertainment that has become adaptor Patrick Barlow’s masterpiece of comic theatre.
The story is fairly simple, a bored, intelligent young man stumbles into a plot to smuggle military secrets out of the country. He is framed for a murder he didn’t commit and travels the length of the country in an effort to find and stop the spymaster truly responsible.
Given that the story famously involves car chases, airplane chases, train chases, escape across the Forth Bridge and even more car chases you would think this was not a natural story for theatre. But the designers, Peter McKintosh, Ian Scott and Mic Pool, along with movement director Toby Sedgwick have come up with a phenomenal production that not only tells the story with just four actors but manages to convey a myriad of locations with just a few props, a single set and some remarkable sound & light.
The tiny company of just four actors provide a cast of dozens.
Richard Ede as John Hannay is all Boy’s Own hero with a smile that you expect to ping with brightness underneath a ‘surprisingly sexy pencil moustache’. Clad in an expensive tweed suit he strides around the stage striking heroic poses as he gestures with his pipe.
Olivia Greene, a local girl who studied in  Harborough Academy of Performing Arts, plays the three female characters in the show, including the initial murder victim that sets the ensuing drama in progress.
Andrew Hodges, another local alumni, plays Man 2, a somewhat unassuming name for the huge number of roles he plays. Along with Rob Witcomb as Man 1, this pair of hugely gifted actors people the stage with an astounding number of characters which appear at an astonishing rate with quick costume changes that defy logic at times. Add to this the accents they need to master, sometimes in the blink of an eye, and you have great, great, great theatre. At times their patter is reminiscent of ITMA’s Claude & Cecil while at other times you feel you are watching a Two Ronnies weekly serial.
As if this isn’t hilarious enough in itself you have the bonus of  things like the train running across the front of the stage, deliberately mistimed sound effects and the spectacularly funny sight of a giant shadow puppet show depicting the escape across the Scottish Highlands complete with an obligatory Alfred Hitchcock cameo overseeing the getaway.
This is theatre at its very best. Grab a ticket if you can and find out why this show played to packed out houses in London’s West End for nine long years.

First published on Western Gazette

23/05/2016

Of Mice And Men


Review by: Paul Towers, 23 May 2016
Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck
A Birmingham Rep and The Touring Consortium production
Curve 23 – 28 May 2016

“the denouement is as inevitable as it is shocking”

Steinbeck’s novella, based on his own early experiences of being a migratory worker in 1920’s America, is often required reading is secondary schools, hence the large number of school children in the audience tonight. It is also a continuing source of angst amongst liberals for its overt racism and vulgarity.
The title is taken from Robbie Burn’s poem To A Mouse in which the lines “The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry” appear.
The plot concerns the arrival of two migrant workers, intelligent George Milton and his sidekick Lennie Small, a gentle giant of a man with limited mental capabilities. George has a dream, to own a small  holding where he and Lennie will be safe and self sufficient. Teaming up with Candy, the injured bumbling old retainer, their goal is within sight but, as usual, Lennie’s social clumsiness brings the house of cards tumbling down and the denouement is as inevitable as it is shocking.
Steinbeck accurately catches the claustrophobia of  the smaller than small town mentality in the isolated ranch and the basic dialogue of those isolated from polite society.
The staging is simplistic in its effectiveness with just two sets. The stage opens with a blank wall with a door in it. The two migrants spend their last night beside a river prior to starting work on the ranch. It will also be the place for Lennie to run to should he get into trouble.
With beautifully choreographed precision the scene is changed to the inside of the bunkhouse with the myriad of furniture that requires.
William Rodell as George and Kristian Phillips as Lennie are perfectly cast, while veteran actor Dudley Sutton as Candy, the not-as-simple-as-he-looks amputee, is superb. Inevitably Monty the dog steals every scene he is in!

First published in Western Gazette

18/05/2016

Acorn Antiques The Musical


Review by: Paul Towers, 18 May 2016
Acorn Antiques the Musical by Victoria Wood
Wigston Amateur Operatic Society production
Little Theatre, Leicester 17th – 21st May 2016

“Pull on your Marigolds and grab a ticket.”

When Acorn Antiques the Musical first hit the stage in 2005 with most of the original cast from Victoria Wood on TV, the first half was a backstage story of the rehearsals for a completely different show that the cast had signed up for. This touring version is largely the revival version from 2006 which wisely ditched the original first half which sought to send up all those earnest back stage avant garde dirges.
The action now goes straight to the main story of Acorn Antiques, complete with shaking scenery, swinging backdrops, missed cues and dodgy props. It goes without saying that the storyline is as believable as the TV series.
Wood manages to parody all manner of musicals including Sweet Charity, Blood Brothers (‘Oh, the plot is like Blood Brothers’. ‘Well, yers, just shorter and with more laughs’!), Chicago (a wonderfully self indulgent opening number in the style of ‘Fob Boss’), Little Shop of Horrors, no end of Disney songs and, my personal favourite, several Sondheim songs. Blissful musical theatre.
With a talented live band in the orchestra pit the singers were able to pause for the inevitable laughter to die down (that happened many times).
The entire cast were superb but especial mention has to go to Julia Glover-Kirtland as Mrs Overall, not only a very physical part but the stand out comedy role in the show. Her scuffling gait was almost like she was channelling Julie Walters. Josie Tweddle as Miss Babs was in turns lecherous and desperate with a great belter of a voice.
The plot, such as it is, concerns the hunt for Misses Babs and Berta’s mother, their father’s will and the prevention of a takeover of the whole of Manchesterford by the evil coffee purveyors seeking to replace all those quaint independent traders.
This revised version is a fitting tribute to the late great Victoria Wood, taken too soon.
Pull on your Marigolds and grab a ticket before Saturday.

First published on Western Gazette