Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

28/02/2016

Dave's Leicester Comedy Festival 2016


Review by: Paul Towers, 28/2/16
Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival 2016

Once again Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival has drawn to a close. While both the city, and to some extent the county, has been awash with comedic performances  in every corner, our very own contribution to the festival here in the city’s West End has more than made its mark.
While there has been a dramatic reduction in the local venues that have got involved with the Festival it has been left to the ever remarkable Upstairs at The Western to make sure that the West End has spent February laughing.
This wonderfully intimate theatre-over-a-pub gave us a wide range of entertainment to tickle our funny bones. The month started off in cracking style with George Egg, anarchist cook. This belter of a show gave us an hour of inspired lunacy ending with a three course meal cooked on stage! A very welcome return was made by the equally lunatic Conversation Garden does a Panel Show, Leicester’s very own anarchic love child of Shooting Stars and Blankety Blank.  As the month wore on we had a couple of very talented sketch show nights and an hilarious Audience With Henry VIII, seeing as how Leicester has been in a right royal mood since Richard III was re-interred. Upstairs at The Western book-ended their comedy season with a final return visit from Conversation Garden. This wonderfully local theatre has a packed season of events running right up the middle of June including their renowned Comedy Workshops from the middle of March.
Although, as I said, many local venues dropped out of the Festival this year a couple of new places have dipped their toes in the waters and it is to be hoped they will carry on providing us with entertainment.
An unlikely venue for comedy was the Church of The Martyrs in Westcotes Drive who hosted An Evening With Paul Kerensa, a script writer for BBC’s Miranda. Almost as unexpected was the Feed Bellies Not Bins Comedy Club at The West End Centre on Andrews Street.

First published in Western Gazette

25/02/2016

Outings


Review by: Paul Towers, 25 February 2016
Outings by Matthew Baldwin & Thomas Hescott
Seabright Productions, directed by David Grindley
Curve 25th & 26th February 2016

“short, snappy vignettes”

Utilising the very successful format popularised by The Vagina Monologues, four actors perch on stools and read out a collection of stories culled from various social media sources of coming out and being gay.
To begin with they are short, snappy vignettes of  that dreaded moment. Mostly they are positive; the lad who is mortified that his mother is so accepting as he was relishing the potential drama of it all. Some uplifting; a 7 year old whose response when his mother told him she was gay was ‘How cool is that?’ Some not so accepting; a woman whose Father wasted years refusing to accept her chosen path, only seeing sense almost on his death bed.
There have to be, along the way, acknowledgment of the various celebrity outings. Tellingly, one declared that we are finally getting to a point where sports stars coming out, in particular, are hardly newsworthy. Surely a good thing.
As a documentary piece it has to include a selection of less savoury, sometimes horrific stories of not so long ago. The first half concluded with a truly barbaric story of a young man who felt pressured into seeking out so-called therapies and endured some practices which, if they occurred in the Third World today, would be condemned by civilised society. Sadly these things were not uncommon in this country in the 60’s and 70’s. Thankfully, in a relatively short space of time, we have moved on in most parts of the world. Although there are States in America who still haven’t outlawed it yet.
Outings is at Curve again on Friday 26th February.



19/02/2016

Revan and Fennell


Review by: Paul Towers, 19 February 2016
Revan and Fennell
Upstairs @ The Western, 19th & 20th February 2016

“the natural successors to French and Saunders”

This is my last review of Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival 2016 and it has been worth venturing out on a cold, wet February evening.
Revan and Fennell have been touted as the natural successors to French and Saunders and, on the strength of their latest show, I can see no reason why not.
Starting off with  an appropriately political dig at the Government’s arts funding cuts, they dive straight into a low budget homage to The Lion King, complete with tatty costumes and props. The show then ploughs straight on with hilarious digs at Eastenders, poverty, weddings and cabaret singers before giving us a Broadway Musical finale.
Despite a very sparse audience this professional duo gave their all. Saturday night is almost sold out so call the box office for tickets.
Upstairs at The Western has put on a wide range of comedic shows running right up to next Saturday 27th February and has proved once again that it has a very valid place in Leicester’s theatre scene.

First published on Western Gazette
and Pub Theatre Blog

17/02/2016

Anne Reid


Review by: Paul Towers, 17 February 2016
Anne Reid – I love to sing
Curve Studio Wednesday 17th February 2016

“stories from a national treasure”

What better on a cold and rainy Wednesday night than to snuggle down in Curve’s intimate studio space for a cosy evening of songs and stories from national treasure Anne Reid.
Ms Reid has been a working actress for more than 60 years and has a fund of anecdotes from her rich and varied career.
Born in Newcastle Upon Tyne (surprisingly) she was schooled in North Wales and went to RADA. Her big break came in 1961 when she joined the cast of Coronation Street as Albert Tatlock’s daughter and Ken Barlow’s first wife. She stayed with the soap for 10 years, off and on, before being killed off, at her own request, and leaving to do other things.
In recent years Ms Reid has been best known for roles in Victoria Woods’ Dinnerladies, the revival of Upstairs Downstairs, ITV’s Ladies of Letters and of course her current starring role in Last Tango In Halifax. Despite a long break form acting while she brought up her son, Anne Reid has hardly been out of work and her current cabaret act is a nice little filler between longer jobs.
While it has to be said that Anne Reid is not a trained musical theatre singer she has a very pleasant voice that carries a tune accurately. Her anecdotes are amusingly self deprecating but her lack of experience with telling stories on stage does mean she tends to talk over the laughs, of which there are many.
I feel that now is as good a time as any to criticise the Studio’s sound system. It needs some major rethinking. The speakers for the in house sound are up high and to the side. When a solo performer is on stage this provides a very inaccurate direction for the sound. I was sitting on the left hand side, halfway back so the sound was booming out directly in front of me while Ms Reid was centre stage. Very disconcerting. For a solo performer it would make much better acoustic sense to have the speakers lower down and closer together so the illusion of  directional sound would be more accurate.
I Love To Sing is touring for the rest of the month.
First published on Western Gazette

15/02/2016

Beyond The Pail

Review by: Paul Towers, 15 February 2016
Beyond The Pail by Henry Dawe
Uppingham Theatre Company production
Upstairs @ The Western, 14th & 15th February 2016

“non-stop puns, groan-inducing jokes and silly songs”

Imagine, if you will, a world where the sun always shines, swearing is forbidden and gentlemen take Sunday lunch with the Bishop and his wife. This is the utopia that Beyond The Pail is set in as two working thespians lunch in the refined (their words, not mine) and civilised surroundings of Leicester’s Hilton Hotel.
As a pianist tinkles on his ivories the two troupers take their restaurant table to await the arrival of the doddery steward to take their orders. Their conversation turns to the various trials and tribulations of their personal and working lives. What follows is an hour and a quarter of non stop puns, groan inducing jokes and silly songs.
With the arrival of the Bishop and his wife they skilfully avoid all the expected smut and coarseness while still maintaining non stop laughter.
Written by one of the main actors, Henry Dawe, this is like a 75 minute episode of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue and so filled with silly jokes that even if you don’t quite get one (and younger audience members may miss a few references) there will be a dozen more along straight away.
This is huge fun for even the most easily offended. Your maiden aunt will be bursting her girdle and your teenage brother will be laughing into his handkerchief. If you like puns, pottiness and a bonkers plot then Beyond The Pail is definitely for you.
Full details of further shows can be found at http://www.beyond-the-pail.com/
First published on Western Gazette

14/02/2016

Cat (The play)


Review by: Paul Towers, 14 February 2016
Cats The Play by Richard Hardwick and Jamie Beamish
Curve, Sunday 14th February 2016

“the greatest musical theatre star that never was”

Cat, The Play is Hardwick & Beamish’s irreverent homage to musical theatre and especially the behemoths that are Andrew Lloyd Webber (ALW) shows. Dave, our ‘hero’ is ‘the greatest musical theatre star that never was’ and this is his story.
When Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, the musical, first burst forth onto the stage of the New London Theatre in 1981 a young Judy Dench was cast to play Grizabella. As history shows she snapped her Achilles tendon during rehearsals, Elaine Paige leapt into the breech at short notice and a star was born.
Dave had no such luck as he had a history of being written out just before opening night on a string of productions, coincidentally all written by the Lord (Lloyd Webber).
The stage is littered (Littered. Geddit? Cats, litter. Oh never mind!) with the detritus of a multitude of musical theatre roles. Into this junk yard skips Dave, still in his Cats costume, and the tale unfolds (do I have to explain every pun to you?).
Not only is the story itself hilarious but the interspersed songs are works of genius. Of especial note is the extraordinarily sacrilegious spoof of Jesus Christ Superstar which is perhaps the highlight of this tongue in cheek adulation of all things ALW.
The script is sprayed (!) with hundreds of in-jokes. For a Musical theatre geek, buff or just an appreciative audience member, this is the stuff of wet dreams. Not only are the musical numbers clever parodies of well known songs but the dialogue itself  contains numerous familiar lines from West End shows. This show is, in the words of the great Eric Idle, ‘lovingly ripped off’ from the originals.
Losing a role in Cats doesn’t seem to have done Judy Dench any harm so there is hope for Dave yet, despite his vitriol. One day even he could end up as a shoplifting national treasure!
In the hands of Gerard McCarthy this failed entertainer dances, sings and even plays a bit of piano in a tour de force which left the audience in Curve’s Studio laughing and crying.
On the off chance that you can get a ticket for the evening show on Sunday 14th February, grab it with both hands. Otherwise get on Ryanair to Belfast Opera House for the 18th & 19th February
Full details of upcoming performances at http://www.davidhullpromotions.com/cat-the-play
First published on Western Gazette


13/02/2016

Mixed Doubles

Review by: Paul Towers, 13 February 2016
Mixed Doubles by Will Close, Megan Smith, Paul Aitchison and Rose Robinson
Upstairs @ The Western, 13th February 2016

“an hour of  slick sketches”

Sketch shows, whether on TV, radio or on stage, are notoriously difficult to get right but Mixed Doubles do a damn fine job.
With a 100% success rate this team of four writer/performers had the audience with them from the start. Most of the sketches had us laughing out loud, a few invoked awkward moment titters and several were more inventive than expected.
This quartet have an established pedigree as writers and performers and are BBC Radio 4 favourites.
With hilarious routines around The Elephant In The Room, Lady Pains and a great finale song this is an hour of  slick sketches by a group who are so comfortable with each other that they even try and corpse one another.
Mixed Doubles are touring prior to taking the show to the Edinburgh Festival later this year and won the Peoples Choice Award at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival in 2013
First published on Western Gazette

11/02/2016

An Audience with Henry VIII



Review by: Paul Towers, 11 February 2016
An Audience With Henry VIII by Ross Gurney-Randall & Pete Howells
An RGR Productions/Foundry Group co-production
Upstairs @ The Western, 11 February 2016

“a rollicking romp.”

From the moment that Ross Gurney-Randall’s late King Henry VIII bursts onto the stage we are assured of a riotous evening’s entertainment.
Stuck for the last 469 years in purgatory awaiting the appearance of God so he can be absolved of his sins, the notorious womanising Tudor monarch holds court with us, his captive audience.
Railing long and loudly, especially loudly, against the misinformation about his reputation that has accumulated over the passing four centuries, this much misunderstood sovereign (his words, not mine) sets about putting the record straight.
He did not have syphilis. Everyone else in Europe did, but not His Majesty. The ‘departure’ of his various wives were expediencies thrust upon him by his political and  regal advisors. The King loved them all. Well, maybe not the adulterous Catherine Howard. But all the rest. Mostly.
This is a rumbustious telling of  a period in English history that saw the dissolution of the monasteries and the creation of the Church of England. As His Majesty sits and awaits, in vain, his Lord’s arrival we are treated to a bombastic lecture laced with raucous humour; a rollicking romp through the Tudor king’s tumultuous life as he attempts to justify his few victories and many failings with many a sly wink to the audience.
Ross Gurney-Randall’s performance is a master class in powerful arrogance entwined with emotional vulnerability.
Full details of upcoming dates for this award winning show can be found at www.foundrygroup.co.uk
First published in Western Gazette

09/02/2016

Lord Of The Flies


Review by: Paul Towers, 09 February 2016
Lord of The Flies by William Golding
Regents Park London Theatre Production
Curve 9 – 13 February 2016

“harrowing tale of human nature.”

Long ago when films were still black and white and I was still in short trousers one of the set books at school was William Golding’s harrowing novel of human nature and what happens when the discipline of normal society is discarded.
Published in 1954 this was Golding’s first novel, written while working as a teacher in Salisbury. Born in Cornwall and serving honourably in the Royal Navy during the war, Golding had returned to teaching and started to write in his spare time. Drawing on his experiences both at sea and in school he was credited with the accurate documenting of the lawlessness of teenage boys left to their own devices. This insight was what led him to imagine an extreme scenario where a bunch of young lads find themselves left to go feral.
This critically acclaimed production of Lord of The Flies thrills and shocks from the moment it starts. The set is magnificent and features the back end of a crashed passenger plane surrounded by spilled luggage in the jungle of a desert island. Slowly the few surviving schoolboys gather together and try and work out what to do. Their first opportunity to be rescued fails when their fire goes out. Gradually the camp splits into two factions; one wants to be sensible, organise themselves and plan a strategy for attracting rescuers; the other feels their blood rise when they go hunting a pig for food and ultimately descend into savagery. This clash leads to two deaths and would have resulted in even more if salvation in the form of the Royal Air Force didn’t step in.
A superb cast of young actors, some dance trained, fill the stage with the required bloodthirsty and animalistic brutality while Luke Ward–Wilkinson as Ralph and Freddie Watkins as Jack lead their respective gangs in their blood soaked descent into near madness. Along the way Golding shows how easily superstition and religious fervour can be imposed on those without a direction, despite their supposed education and intellect.
Lord of the Flies is on at Curve until Saturday 13 February

First published in Western Gazette

07/02/2016

Conversation Garden


Review by: Paul Towers, 06/02/16
Conversation Garden Does a Panel Show
Dan Nicholas, Jack Britton & Lewys Holt
Upstairs @ The Western, 6 Feb & 20 Feb 2016

“the anarchic lovechild of Shooting Stars and Blankety Blank.”

Conversation Garden has been doing the rounds for a few years and has garnered a cult following, especially amongst students and similarly lazy 20-somethings.
In 2014 the trio retired the show, vowing never to return to their debauched ways. So when they decided to make a comeback for this year’s Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival they got together over several gallons of lager and, voila, came up with a whole new concept. Conversation Garden Does a Panel Show.
This late night, 18+ only, entertainment is the anarchic love child of Shooting Stars and Blankety Blank. Dan Nicholas is the hapless ringmaster trying to keep order between team captains Jack & Lewys, a couple of guest comedians and numerous ‘volunteers’ dragged kicking and screaming from the audience just to make up the numbers.
Questions are grouped into rounds that vary from awful puns to beer drinking contests. All done in the best Student Union tradition. The audience is actively encouraged to get involved and, unsurprisingly, get more answers right than the panellists.
Tonight’s show was sold out but the guys return on 20th February for another evening of barely controlled chaos, nudity, drunkenness and the occasional naughty word. Dan Nicholas can also be seen hosting the Upstairs at The Western Comedy Workshops with Gary Phillpott throughout March and April. www.upstairsatthewestern.com
First published on Western Gazette
and on London Pub Theatre blog

05/02/2016

George Egg


Review by: Paul Towers, 05 February 2016
George Egg – Anarchist Cook
Upstairs @ The Western, 5 & 6 February 2016

“a belter of a show”

Leicester’s Upstairs at The Western kicked off its contribution to Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival 2016 with a belter of a show. George Egg – Anarchist Cook is just what it says a stand up comedian - cooking!
A well established performer, George has travelled the length and breadth of this and other countries. In each and every hotel he has stayed  he has found the same over-priced and unimaginative late night culinary offerings. So, how to remedy this woeful situation? How about rummaging around all the freebies left for customers, combine them with the normal appliances in every room and, with minimal shopping, whip up an imaginative 3-course meal. Which is exactly what he does in every show. So successful are his ad hoc meals that he serves them up to the audience afterwards.
That would be impressive enough if he were Mary Berry but given that he combines this with the left field humour of Bill Bailey and he has the audience in the palm of his hand from the outset.
George Egg- Anarchist Cook is at Upstairs at The Western again tomorrow (Sat 6 Feb) but is sold out. However he is on tour throughout the year. Full details at www.georgeegg.com
The rest of Upstairs at The Western’s season can be found at www.upstairsatthewestern.com
First published in Western Gazette


01/02/2016

Three Days Of Rain


Review by: Paul Towers, 01 February 2016
Three Days of Rain by Richard Greenberg
Leicester Drama Society with Lois Cowley, Mark Bland & Andrew Parsons
Leicester Little Theatre 1 – 6 February

“all three actors chew up the scenery.”

Three Days of Rain is a play of two halves but is nothing to do with football!
In the first half Nan, Walker and Pip are, respectively, sister, brother and childhood friend who gather prior to the reading of Nan & Walker’s father’s will in 1995 Manhattan. Nan is the sensible, balanced older sister, Walker is the acutely disturbed brother and Pip is the son of their father’s creative partner. So far, so good. The trouble is that when the atmosphere gets a little heated old wounds are opened and secrets are spilled.
The set is an acutely observed dilapidated loft apartment which serves as both the modern bolt hole of Walker and the apartment where their parents met and consummated their relationship.
The second half goes back to where it all started, and swiftly unravelled, for the family when neurotic Lina (Lois Cowley) meets stuttering, shy Ned (Andrew Parsons) and dumps assumed fiancée Theo (Mark Bland).
Each actor doubles up and plays both the parents in the second half and their own children in the first half.
This is not the easiest of story’s to follow, partly because of the American accents but also because quite a lot of the story is left hanging for the audience to work out for themselves.
All three actors powerhouse their way through their roles with acclaim and all three have their chances to chew up the scenery.
There is creative use of lighting, sound design and water throughout
Three Days Of Rain is at Little Theatre until Saturday 6 February

First published on Western Gazette