Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

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