Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

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