Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

28/04/2016

Our Day OUt


Review by: Paul Towers, 28 April 2016
Our Day Out by Willy Russell
Curve and DeMontfort University co-production
Curve Studio 28 – 30 April 2016

“a sure fire winner”

For the sixth year running Curve has got together with DeMontfort University’s drama department for a co-production that allows students to experience the discipline of working in a commercial environment and perform in front of a paying audience.
This year’s offering is a sure fire winner with a script by award winning author Willy Russell whose previous hits have included Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine and Blood Brothers. Calling on his own experiences as a teacher in Liverpool, Russell has fashioned a story that is both funny and poignant as a remedial class of  youngsters whom many have consigned to the scrap heap are taken on a very rare school outing to Lincoln Castle. Alongside the liberal teachers who are convinced that their rag tag of hopeless cases can actually achieve something from careful nurturing is the school’s jobsworth deputy head teacher, Mr Briggs, who can see no other option than strict discipline to keep his rowdy charges in line. Of course a class full of outsider kids soon runs rings round him and, eventually, show him that loosening up and having some fun is no bad thing.
An excellent cast of students are in fine voice with well cast adult parts ensuring that a semblance of discipline appears to be maintained.
While the original television play was set in Liverpool and the north Wales coast for this production it has been transposed to Leicester, Lincoln and Skegness, which allows for some good natured mickey taking of the area.

First published in Western Gazette

24/04/2016

Comedy Workshop Performance

Rob Coleman

Review by: Paul Towers, 24 April 2016
Comedy Workshop Performance night
Upstairs @ The Western, 24 April 2016

“one liners, puns and shaggy dog stories.”

For the past six weeks 7 novice stand up comedians have been working on producing 10 minutes of original material and then performing it in front of a paying audience.
Throughout that time they have been mentored by Gary Phillpott, artistic director of Off The Fence and Upstairs at The Western, and local comedy hero Dan Nicholas, he of Conversation Garden fame.
The line-up was a mixture of complete virgins to comedy and a couple of more experienced comics. Their material was a mix of one liners, puns and shaggy dog stories.
Nick Muszynskyj kicked the evening off after our compere, Dan Nicholas, had warmed the audience up. Nick set the tone for the evening with a litany of groan inducing puns and one liners worthy of Tim Vine. Next was Kash, the baby of the group at 22. His embarrassing tales of being a geek in a  gym had us in empathetic fits of laughter and relief that it wasn’t just us that was intimidated when surrounded by work out equipment. Then onto the stage strolled a wild looking Welshman by the name of Chris Phillips. His timing was immaculate as he related tales of the valleys. Next up was Neil May, another exponent of one liners and puns. Taking us up to the interval was the sublime Matt West with his hilarious imaginings of the domestic life of the JML voice-over guy.
After a reviving pint at the bar Dan Nicholas herded back to our seats and the most experienced performer of the course, James Sheridan, another aficionado of the one liner and pun. Finally we welcomed Lisa Marsden on to the stage where she regaled us with excruciating tales of caravanning holidays as a child.
And then, just to make sure we left the theatre with a smile on our lips, established stand up Rob Coleman who mixed misanthropic tales of his misery with increasingly tasteless one liners. The perfect end to a perfect night.

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

23/04/2016

James Meehan & Kiri Pritchard-McLean


 Review by: Paul Towers, 23 April 2016
Gag Reflex presents James Meehan and Kiri Pritchard-McLean
Upstairs @ The Western, 23 April 2016

“more preview stand up comedy.”

For the second weekend running we have been treated to a couple of Gag Reflex’s stand up comedians’ preview shows. These are nights where comedians try out their comedy routines prior to going to the Edinburgh Festival. Bearing this in mind it is to be expected that the material will be a bit patchy, sometimes working, sometimes not.
This week we had James Meehan and Kiri Pritchard-McLean, real life partners, who had similar styles, unsurprisingly, which sometimes mined both sides of their domestic life.
Meehan, while getting laughs eventually, needs to edit his material and pare down the preamble to every story. He comes across as very likeable and the audience warmed to him immediately. Being a metrosexual type of guy his new-laddish material did go down well with the stag party on the front row.
Kiri, on the other hand, bounced onto the stage and grabbed the audience firmly by the …… nether regions before treating us to some probably unsuitable feminist material. She quickly ditched this in favour of her usual audience led banter and domestic trials.
As well as performing their solo acts the pair are also part of the sketch group, Gein’s Family Giftshop and can be seen at Leicester’s Little Theatre on Weds 25 May

http://upstairsatthewestern.com/

First published on Pub Theatre Blog
and in Western Gazette

19/04/2016

The Full Monty


Review by: Paul Towers, 19 April 2016
The Full Monty by David Yazbek & Terence McNally
Leicester Operatic Players production
Little Theatre 19 – 23rd April 2016

“pray for a lighting malfunction.”

The Full Monty at Leicester’s Little Theatre  is not the same as the production currently touring and due to return to DeMontfort Hall in March 2017. This is the short lived US version reworked (again) for the UK audience which ran for two years on Broadway but only managed 8 months in the West End. While the story closely follows the original film it has been padded out with 14 new songs, most of which add nothing to the story and a couple are completely misplaced. One, Big Black Man, is sung by the character called Horse but, in this production, is played by an actor owing more to Bernard Breslaw than Frank Bruno! Another, Jeanette's Showbiz Number, is sung in an American accent and sounds to be more appropriate to Hairspray!
While the dialogue is filled with one liners and lots of funny business the show does not work as a musical. Far better would have been to revert to using the pre-recorded numbers from the film, as the current touring version does. Another cause for disappointment was that some of the iconic scenes had been either deleted or relocated. For instance the trademark scene in the job centre where the guys are lined up and unconsciously go into their dance routine is now transferred to a funeral! Ludicrous!.
Whatever the shortcomings of the show itself the cast could not be faulted. Despite one moment when a cast member dried (possibly due to his having taken over the role at short notice) they were as professional as any commercial show. The on stage chemistry between Chris Cooper-Hayes (Jerry) and Neil Prior (Dave) was palpable. Occasionally the onstage orchestra was a little overpowering but that will sort itself out as the week progresses.
Finally, there was a slight lighting cue malfunction and the assembled audience had very bright confirmation that the cast had, indeed, given the Full Monty!

First published on Western Gazette

15/04/2016

Harriet Dyer & Dan Nightingale


@pubtheatre1 Review by: Paul Towers, 15 April 2016
Gag Reflex presents Harriet Dyer and Dan Nightingale Preview Shows
Upstairs @ The Western, 15 April 2016

“a bumper night of comedy for a bargain price”

As part of their series of  Edinburgh Preview shows, Gag Reflex have given us a double bill of comedians over the next two weeks. Next Saturday (23rd) is James Meehan and Kiri Pritchard-Mclean but tonight we were treated to Harriet Dyer and Dan Nightingale. You can book for the shows individually or as a double for just £10. That’s two hours (or more) of quality stand-up for a tenner!
First up tonight was Harriet Dyer, a Cornish comedian who looked like Ellen Degeneres but with a quirky adenoidal style all of her own. Her act consists of a stream of consciousness outpouring of the ridiculous things that happen in her life. She is completely bonkers but hilariously so. She endeared herself to the audience from the get go who all ended up wanting to mother her.
This was followed, after a break for a fag, a pint and a pee, by Dan Nightingale. Dan is from Preston, ‘the most boring place in the country’, and regaled us with tales of his comedy idols, his adventures in macho-ness at the gym (not!) and his impending marriage (yes, we were surprised at that one!). His stories, always hilarious, were told with an unending variety of accents and funny voices. His delivery reminded me a lot of Jon Richardson.
This was a bumper night of comedy for a bargain price and I look forward to next week’s offering.

First published on Western Gazette
and  London Pub Theatre guide

14/04/2016

Legally Blonde



Review by: Paul Towers, 14 April 2016
Legally Blonde the Musical by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin
A Made At Curve Production directed by Nikolai Foster
Curve 111 April – 14 May


“unadulterated feel-good blonde, pink silliness”

Legally Blonde is not highbrow musical theatre; it is not a production with a message. It is sheer, unadulterated feel-good blonde, pink silliness.
The original film crept onto our screens back in 2001, a supposed throw-away teen movie with limited appeal beyond bachelorette parties. Surprisingly it became a camp, cult hit propelling Reese Witherspoon to superstardom.
Then in 2007 it came of age and morphed into a full blown Broadway musical that the New York Times labelled a ‘non-stop sugar rush of a show’ and three years later it made its way across the pond where Sheriden Smith had a huge success with it in the West End.
So we come to today and Curve’s revival starring Lucie Jones in the title role. Director Nickolai Foster has used every technical trick that Curve has to offer to give us an evening of pure fun and laughter. With a script that is full of one liners and in-jokes and a score of hilarious songs this is a hit guaranteed to brighten Leicester’s traditionally damp spring.
A hugely talented cast led by Jones, Ian Kelsey, Danny Mac and Jon Robyns keep the pace high and Coronation Street’s Tupele Dorgu has great fun as hairdresser and confident to Elle, Paulette.
Matthew Wright’s set is a blaze of neon (mostly pink of course) and props that sweep on and off seemingly unaided or pop up through the trap in the centre of the stage. Add to that the back projections and the enormous screen/ceiling that flaps up and down all through the show and you have a dazzling array of effects to add to the songs and dances.
If I were to have any complaint it would be that occasionally the on-stage orchestra was sometimes a little overpowering and muffled the lyrics.
A completely full house was, justifiably, on its feet for the finale and rewarded the hard working cast with a well deserved standing ovation.
Once the run at Curve finishes on 14 May the entire production starts on a world tour starting in South Korea, of all places.
First pulished on Western Gazette


Wipers


Review by: Paul Towers, 14 April 2016
Wipers by Ishy Din
A Curve, Belgrade Theatre and Watford Palace co-production
Curve 8 – 23rd April 2016

“worthy, entertaining and well written”

Wipers, so named after the English mispronunciation of the French town of Ypres, is the story of four disparate World War One soldiers end up sheltering in a ramshackle French barn while a lone soldier, Khudadad Khan, holds off the advancing enemy troops.
The play, beautifully set in a versatile evocation of a rural barn, begins with Simon Rivers’ Sadiq, a career soldier who, having lost his family, embraces military life and finds a security in the rigid discipline of the British Army. Next to arrive is Sartaj Garewal’s AD, a private under Sadiq  but unable to speak English or write. This allows a few much needed comic moments when his words are misinterpreted. Next is Jassa Ahluwalia as the over-educated Captain, Thomas. Fresh out of Officer training with little idea of how to handle either men or combat, he turns out to be the pupil to the two more experienced soldiers. Finally Waleed Akhtar as Ayub, a 19 year old boy soldier, arrives yet more cannon fodder in the futile war.
Trapped in the wrecked barn awaiting either salvation or damnation the four men jockey for social position and each learn many things about themselves.
Sadiq opines that, as long as they can hear gun fire that means that Khudadad has continued to protect them.
Khudadad was a real person and the first non-British person to receive a Victoria Cross. His contribution to the success of the allies winning the war is shamefully overlooked.
This play reminds me very much of the old days of BBC’s Play For Today, very worthy, entertaining and well written. Not only does it highlight the much neglected part that South Asian troops played in winning The Great War but it also underlines the continuing mistakes that withdrawing colonialism and deposing dictators without adequate replacements cause.
Wipers is on at Curve until Saturday 23rd April

First published on Western Gazette

11/04/2016

The Philadelphia Story


Review by: Paul Towers, 11/4/16
The Philadelphia Story by Philip Barry
Leicester Drama Society Production
Little Theatre 11 – 16 April 2016

“a slight but amusing story of East Coast gentility”

The Philadelphia Story was originally a play by Philip Barry written in 1939 especially for Katherine Hepburn. Created for her by her great friend it proved to resurrect Ms Hepburn’s career after a series of Hollywood flops. So grateful and confident of the play’s success was she that she forewent a salary and took a percentage of the profits instead. It turned out to be a wise move. Not only was she astute enough to own a slice of the action but she then persuaded millionaire Howard Huges to gift her the entire rights and then convinced Louis B Mayer to pay $250,000 for the film rights and to star her in the leading role in 1940.
In 1956 it was remade as a musical, High Society, starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra.
The Philadelphia Story is nothing more than a lightweight romantic comedy or, as they labelled it in the day, a comedy of remarriage; a genre very popular in the 30’s and 40’s. The tenuous story, if written in the UK, would have been a  farce as it relies on mistaken identities, open and shutting doors and plenty of stock characters. The big difference here is that there is a love story running through it, the remarriage of the genre, resulting in a suitably schmaltzy finale.
Produced by Leicester Drama Society the fairly large cast of  14 includes many of the regular stalwarts of the society as well as a number of newer faces. Especial mention has to go to 15 year old Ella Harding who stole every scene she was in while leading lady, Duchesney Moitt as Tracy Lord, was mercurically volatile as she juggled the favours of three suitors on the eve of her society wedding.
While the entire cast coped admirably with their American accents it was the astounding scenery change halfway through the second hall that got a well deserved extra round of applause. Matt Nunn somehow designed a set that could be changed from the Lord’s mansion interior to the back porch in less than two minutes. A feat only possible with an army of backstage crew and cleverly designed flats that revolved on castors.
The Philadelphia Story is a slight but amusing story of East Coast gentility trying to cope valiantly with their spoilt brat eldest daughter’s love life. It contains a good few chuckles, not a single swear word and some lovely costumes. Nothing to frighten the horses and a nice way to spend a damp April evening.


First published on Western Gazette