Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

15/12/2017

Alfred's War


Review by: Paul Towers, 15 December 2017
Alfred’s War by Marilyn Reed
Upstairs @ The Western, Friday, 15 December 2017

“friend or foe? You decide.”

Alfred’s War is very much s till a work-in-progress and, as such, is not fully ready to be judged. However, while the staging, costumes and scenery are still absent it is fair to critique the overall story.
This story is based on real life events that occurred ten days before the liberation of Brussels in 1944 and were detailed in an oral testimony given in 1955.
A man, variously calling himself Alfred Adler or Philip Jansen is caught up in the final throes of the German occupation of Belgium.
Is he a collaborator with the Gestapo; or is he working with the Belgian Resistance; or maybe he is part of the Belgian Nationalists? Or maybe he is all or none of these things and just managing to survive Nazi ethnic cleansing the best he can.
The scene is set with some inventive projection of newsreel footage onto some of the hundreds of files used to investigate displaced persons after the war.
Alfred/Philip is being interrogated by the Allied forces and tells his story in flashback. Sometimes it seems he is almost caught out when the lies he has invented to protect himself unravel. Or are they even more protective deceptions. We are left largely to make our own minds up. Is he a friend or foe, traitor or facilitator? You decide.
Hopefully the finished production will tour in autumn 2018

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
First published on Western Gazette

Beauty and the Beast pantomime interviews


Beauty and The Beast at DeMontfort Hall 16th December to 6th January 2018
DeMontfort Hall is continuing its recently revived custom of an annual pantomime with a remarkable production of Beauty and The Beast, not to be confused with Disney’s upcoming live action film of the much loved animated version.
On a very chilly morning we assembled in the hall to meet some of the cast and get a sneak round the stage set. It has to said that the way that an enormous amount of scenery has been packed into the very limited room backstage is ingenious. We were lucky to be given a close up view of one of the spectacular scene changes, all of which happen in full view of the audience without a blackout. Incredibly inventive and effective.
Once we had caught our breath and taken cast pictures on the set we wandered into the Garden Suite where we met up with four cast members for a chat.
David Lonsdale plays Cedric, Belle’s father.
Is he good or bad?
Panto always conforms to goodies and baddies, he said. Belle’s father is a good, very avuncular, granddad type who messes up and causes all sorts of problems which result in Belle being held captive by the Beast.
Have you done many pantomimes?
I’ve done a few but I came to it late as I worked on Heartbeat for many years and we couldn’t do panto. We were too busy. Now I’ve done 8 or 9, I’ve played Dame a couple of times but I much prefer doing Fathers and Barons. Dame is way too much like hard work. It is so physical with all the costume changes.
And talking of Dames, I next spoke to renowned local Dame, Martin Ballard
You work for BBC Radio Leicester, don’t you?
Yes I have been there for 30 years, on an off.
Are you from Leicester?
I am originally from Castle Donnington, so Leicestershire born and bred.
You have done loads of pantomimes here, haven’t you?
Overall I have done 28 pantos, this is my 7th here. I was at Loughborough for 15 years when they didn’t do them in Leicester
Have you always been Dame?
No, I’ve done Dames, comics, barons, but mostly Dames
You enjoy doing the Dame?
Absolutely. This is a lovely show. I haven’t done it for a long time. It’s topical because of the movie coming out. It’s got something for everyone, the humour, the slapstick, much more than the Disney story. A very traditional pantomime.
Is it anything like the Disney version?
No, none of the songs. It wouldn’t be panto if we copied that. Panto is driven by the original fairy story. That’s the way it should be anyway. We are not doing the Disney show with slapstick, we are doing the fairytale.
We saw the scene changes just now.
That’s the wow factor, the lights and music, the transformation in full view. Credit has to be given to DeMontfort Hall for the effort they put in every year for this. It is not a traditional theatre and everything has to be created and put in, the lighting rig and scenery machinery; they have to build a theatre on the stage before the scenery goes in.
Next on my list of people to chat to was Richard McCourt.
You are one half of Dick ‘n’ Dom, children’s TV favourites
Just the one half, the other one is in hibernation for the winter.
You’ve been doing panto for quite a while
Quite a bit on my own in the early 2000’s and then me and Dom did a couple of years together and this is my third on my own again.
Are you still on TV?
Yeah but me and Dom mainly do live tours, we are at Edinburgh next year. We are on the live circuit more than on TV at the moment.
What sort of character do you play in panto?
Always this sort, Idle Jack, Wishee Washee, Buttons. This show is weird as it doesn’t have that sort of character like Buttons so I am playing the Dame’s son, Dick, the village idiot.
Is this your first time in Leicester?
Yes, first time in panto but I am from Sheffield and had friends in Leicester so I was up and down.
Finally I got to chat with local legend Sam Bailey
Are you happy to be back here for your second year running?
Third panto, second one here.
When you won X Factor 
Four years ago today!
…. did you ever think it was going to be anything more than a singing career?
I used the experience to open doors and add strings to my bow
Was it always an aspiration to get into acting and musicals?
Yes, I always wanted to do it. There are some people who do X Factor and leave it too late. Literally as soon as I came off the show I was ‘I wanna do this, I wanna do that’. Strike while the iron is hot.
What was it like doing Chicago? Being on the other side of the bars, so to speak?
Playing Momma Morten was great. I loved it. I can’t do the new tour because I am doing Fat Friends The Musical. I finish here and go straight into Fat Friends. I love this, I love Christmas. My kids can come and see me on Christmas Eve. My daughter is obsessed with Belle and is coming dressed up. But that is what panto is all about, it’s for the kids. I have always wanted to do it and now I have been given the opportunity, and n my home town! I can tuck my kids in bed every night and my eldest, 13, loves theatre so she comes along t see backstage.
So, a dream come true?
Absolutely!
There will be a full review in the Gazette shortly but, in the meantime, if you want your dreams to come true you can’t do better than getting tickets for Beauty and The Beast at DeMontfort Hall some time between now and January 6th
First published on Western Gazette


13/12/2017

George's Marvellous Medicine


Review by: Paul Towers, 13 December 2017
George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl, adapted by David Wood
A Made at Curve co-production with Rose Theatre, Kingston
Curve, 9 December to 14 January 2018

“bloody marvellous!”

As the dark rain of a miserable December turned to snow what better way to spend an evening than in the company of Roald Dahl’s bonkers world of childish lunacy. Curve’s annual treat for young and old.
George’s Marvellous Medicine is typical Dahl, gross, funny, rebellious and ideal fodder for children from 4 to 104.
George and his family live on a farm surrounded by chickens, pigs and cows. Their peaceful idyll is shattered by the arrival of  Grandma, George’s mother’s mother, a harridan of the first degree. She is selfish, demanding and ugly both inside and out. George daydreams about what it would be like if she were nice and resolves to make a magic potion to improve her temperament. However it goes wrong and she ends up 10 feet tall. One of the chickens sips some of the potion and starts laying huge eggs. This could be the making of the family. Suffice to say all does not go to plan and they end up back where they started but without annoying Grandma.
Directed by Julia Thomas this is a rumbustious production set in a tangle of  junk and props, everything an imaginative boy needs for a magical adventure.
Throw into the mix puppetry, remote control chickens and sundry illusions and you have 90 minutes of sheer escapism all done up with songs and dances.
Preston Nyman as George makes a great job of involving the audience, much to the delight of one 4 year old about 4 rows back! The small cast was fleshed out by Justin Wilman as George’s dad, Catherine Morris as his mum, Chandri Mistry as the chicken (I know, you have to see it to get it) and Lisa Howard as horrible Grandma.
Tonight had a very good percentage of under 15’s. So good to see them introduced to live theatre so early. The show runs right into the new year and is bloody marvellous for all the family.
First published on Western Gazette




















07/12/2017

Gussett


Review by: Paul Towers, 07 December 2017
Gusset by Elaine Pantling
A Laurie Lorry production
Upstairs @ The Western, 7-8 December 2017

“hilarious and thought provoking.”

Elaine Pantling’s one-woman theatre company, Laurie Lorry, brings one of her latest shows to Upstairs at The Western.
Pauline Potter is a ‘floater’ (and no lavatorial jokes from the back, thank you), she is called upon to fill in at the factory wherever she is needed. Pauline is a knicker stitcher, a gusset guru and very proud of it she is, too. Pauline’s gussets are her guiding light, her path to fulfilment. She has a pocket in her tabard that is home to her various gussets, each one a reminder of how she does and wants to live her life. By day she is a floater but by night she is a wannabe writer. She is taking evening classes.
As Pauline empties her tabard pouch of gussets she explains how each one triggers a thought. Sex, diets, PMT, alternative therapy charlatans and her ever patient husband. All are triggered by the various little fabric pieces of damp drip catchers tucked away in her knickers.
Elaine Pantling’s wry, poignant journey of a northern factory worker trapped in an unfulfilling life is both hilarious and thought provoking
Although tonight was sold out (with a queue waiting for return tickets) there are a very few seats left for Friday’s show. What a great way to liven up a damp and dreary winter’s evening in the company of a talented writer and performer.
Details of Elaine’s other shows and tours can be found at http://www.laurielorry.co.uk and watch out for her show Alice in Her Shoes back at Upstairs at The Western in the New Year

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
First published on Western Gazette

An American in Paris


Review by: Paul Towers, 06 December 2017
An American in Paris by George & Ira Gershwin and Craig Lucas
Dominion Theatre, London – runs to 6 January 2018

“A true feast for the eyes..”

I emerged from the still under renovation Tottenham Court Road underground station into the bustle of Christmas shoppers at the tail end of London’s Oxford Street. It wasn’t as cold as I expected for the first week in December but the dazzling awning of the Dominion Theatre proclaimed the glitzy pleasure An American in Paris promised.
According to the programme the theatre has undergone a full restoration to its former glory after decades of identity changes. It has gone from its original role as a theatre in 1929 to its reincarnation into a cinema with forays into cabaret until the late 80’s when it returned to its roots of musical theatre specialising in very long run shows.
The foyer of the theatre is a beautifully restored entrance to this emporium of magic. The auditorium is sumptuously decorated in gold and deep red. The thing that lets this, and some other West End theatres, down is that between the entrance and the auditorium scant regard for aesthetics seem to have been paid to the walls. The huge panels of plaster, while beautifully restored, are bare and cry out for murals, pictures, replica posters, anything to commemorate the great artistes that have played there in the past. In homage to past successes there is a Chaplin bar, a Freddie Mercury room; why are these legends not pictorially celebrated?
Anyway enough about the theatre, let’s get to the show. An American in Paris was initially a ballet written by George Gershwin in 1928. In 1951 it was made into a film written by Alan Jay Lerner and directed by Vincente Minelli as a vehicle for the talents of Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. The lyrics were added by George’s brother Ira and Saul Chaplin. From the film a stage play was inspired and created by Christopher Weeldon who directs and choreographs it.
The show premiered in Paris, appropriately enough, in 2014, transferred to Broadway in 2015 and arrived in London in 2017.
As with many stage musicals the story is fairly simple. A GI is expatriated in Paris after World War 2 and is struggling to earn a living as a painter. Along with his friends, a composer and a French singer the trio all fall for the same woman and fairly good naturedly compete for her affections.
The large cast are, obviously, incredibly talented dancers and are relatively unknown unless you are a ballet aficionado (which I am not) but don’t let the lack of a ‘name’ put you off grabbing a ticket for the remainder of the run.
The story is told with a combination of dances and songs with dialogue to link the story together. The dances vary from classical ballet to more modern styles and the song list is crammed with classics. That in itself would make for a very entertaining show but then you get the innovative set, designed by Bob Crowley, utilising breathtaking projections and animations, many in the style of charcoal drawings of rainy Paris, to whisk us from back streets to the Seine to boudoirs across the city. A true feast for the eyes.
I was sat halfway up in the gallery and consider £20 for the seat to be a bargain.

25/11/2017

Literally the best magician


Review by: Paul Towers, 25 November 2017
Literally The Best  Magician
David Alnwick
Upstairs @ The Western, Saturday, 25 November 2017

“amazes with his prestidigitation”

Dave Alnwick has aspirations to be literally the best magician. To this end he has perfected a huge range of tricks, sleight of hand and mentalist magic to prove to the world that a misspent youth can turn out right. Like a hyperactive Ron Weasley Alnwick bounds onto the stage and immediately wins round even the most curmudgeonly audience member with his infectious enthusiasm for magic and wicked sense of humour. His crazy patter, of course, is a vital part of his act as it distracts and misdirects as he amazes with his prestidigitation.
The first part of his act was a series of card tricks which built, layer upon layer, to a climatic reveal. Very clever. This was followed with a good version of the cut rope trick complete with fast paced patter. Very Paul Daniels. In the middle he regaled us with anecdotes from the world of magic and the dangers of some tricks. This led on to a neat effect with a couple of Primark carrier bags (recyclable, of course) and a rat (don’t ask). The final section of the hour was taken up with mentalist magic. Think Derren Brown. This worked very well and, in time honoured tradition, appeared to go wrong until the very last moment when the rat (keep up at the back) came into its own and provided the final denouement.
Well worth a visit to Leicester’s only Pub Theatre on a very chilly November night.

David Alnwick is constantly touring and regularly sells out at the Edinburgh Fringe. Full details at www.davealnwick.com

http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
First published on Western Gazette

24/11/2017

Leslie Bricusse's Scrooge


Review by: Paul Towers, 24 November 2017
Leslie Bricusse’s Scrooge
A Made At Curve production starring Jasper Britton
Curve 18 November 2017 to 7 January 2018

“a magical festive family treat.”

Once again director Nikolai Foster has assembled a talented team of actors and production staff to create a magical festive family treat, although with the caveat that maybe under 7’s may find it a little loud and scary.
Scrooge is lyricist/writer Leslie Bricusse’s take on Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge is a misanthropic, miserly skinflint who begrudges the air that others breathe because he can’t monetise it. His faithful clerk, Bob Cratchit, struggles to feed his family on the parsimonious wages he gets while also trying to give crippled Tiny Tim the best life he can.
Designer Michael Taylor has created a huge set which flies and slides to create a myriad of locations in Victorian Dickensian squalor. Lighting designer Ben Cracknell not only had to ensure that all the stage was suitably lit but also had to contend with the specialist needs of the magical illusions created by Scott Penrose and the various pyrotechnic effects needed. To add to the magic Tom Marshall designed some great sound effects, especially for  the ghosts.
Now we come to the cast, for what good are all the special effects and sets in the world without actors? Jasper Britton as Scrooge makes a welcome return to Curve after his triumph in What The Butler Saw and as a newly appointed Curve Board Member. While Jasper has huge acting experience and capability, singing is not one of his greatest talents. That said he is more than capable of putting a song across and the part does not call for an operatic voice. He is superbly supported by a huge cast that has a large presence of  Curve Young Company members, many of them familiar faces from past shows. The main cast also contains several familiar faces and, of course, the obligatory soap star. In this instance Danny-Boy Hatchard (apparently from Eastenders).
The show is packed with songs, the best known is probably Thank You Very Much. As with all Dickens stories there is precious little humour in the narrative but a huge dose of salutary lessons and moralising. Once again Dickens spells out the shortcomings of Victorian England; the poverty, the unsanitary living conditions alongside the pauper’s determination to ‘be grateful for what we’ve got’.
All in all this is, despite the grim conditions, an uplifting tale of redemption (Scrooge) and familial stoicism (Cratchit) spliced together with great songs.
Scrooge is on at Curve until 7 January 2018. While there are few seats left for matinees, evenings are easier http://www.curveonline.co.uk/

http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/
First published in Western Gazette

















10/11/2017

Big Foot and tiny little heart strings


Review by: Paul Towers, 10 November 2017
Big Foot by Joseph Barnes-Philips
Produced by Black Theatre Live, Highrise Theatre & Stratford Circus Arts Centre, directed by Dominic Garfield
Upstairs @ The Western, 10 November 2017

“a tale of teenage angst and sudden maturity.”

Rayleigh lives in South London, the only child of separated Guyanese parents. Treading that awkward path from teen to man, Rayleigh is on the verge of falling in with the wrong crowd and ending up like his absent father when he meets Spice Girl, the woman of his dreams, and everything changes. Suddenly he has responsibilities and a child on the way.
Big Foot is written and performed by Joseph Barnes-Philips and is littered with autobiographical elements. There is an atmospheric soundtrack and clever lighting as each scene changes.
I love these one man/woman shows with multiple characters. I am in awe of the way they can switch from one to the other in an instant and convey a character with either an expression, a gesture or a simple accessory. Barnes-Philips has this talent in spades and has us instantly believing he is an old woman,  a gangsta, a teenager and a Spice Girl as he weaves his tale of teenage angst and sudden maturity.
Big Foot has been touring and future dates can be found on www.blacktheatrelive.co.uk/tours/big-foot. The script is available on Amazon

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/
First reviewed in Western Gazette

06/11/2017

The Secret Keeper


Review by: Paul Towers, 06 November 2017
The Secret Keeper by Angela Clerkin
A Clerkinworks & Ovalhouse presentation
Curve 6 – 7 November 2017

“Just because it is a fairy tale, don’t expect a happy ending.”

Every fairy tale worth its salt is a combination of morality, fantasy and horror. Angela Clerkin’s The Secret Keeper, not to be confused with Kate Morten’s book of the same name, has all those elements in a slyly satirical take on modern life, especially current surreal sexual revelations.
The Good Daughter stumbles upon the secret of making her father cast off the pall of gloom that hangs over him as he struggles to get over his brother’s death nine years ago. All she has to do is listen to his secrets and promise never to reveal them. This instantly cheers him up and he proclaims her to be a miracle worker. Very soon the townsfolk flock to her and unburden themselves, absolving their miseries. Sound familiar? Pseudo Catholicism in all its glory. One by one the Good Daughter is burdened with all their sordid secrets until one day the weight becomes too great and she blurts the whole lot out. Again, familiar ground if you follow Edward Snowdon’s leaking of US classified documents. Hypocritically those exposed go on the rampage and exact their revenge on the secret keeper’s indiscretion. As is always the case the guilty cast round for someone else to blame for their own peccadilloes.
A supremely talented cast of just 4 play 40 characters with visual invention, an imaginative soundtrack and original songs.
Angela Clerkin plays the Good Daughter while Niall Ashdown, Hazel Maycock and Anne Odeke fill in all the blanks with aplomb, swiftly changing character with barely a draped shawl or an apron.
Just because it is a fairy tale, don’t expect a happy ending.
The Secret Keeper is at Curve again tomorrow

Fiirst published on Western Gazette