Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

31/03/2017

Wonder Woman - The naked truth


Review by: Paul Towers, 31 March 2017
Wonder Woman – The Naked Truth
NotNow Collective – devised, written and performed by Tina Hofman & Kristina Gavran
Upstairs @ The Western, 31st March 2017

“funny, bright and insightful.”

NotNow Collective is Tina Hofman and Kristina Gavran, both Croation, both living in Birmingham and, most importantly, both working mothers. Both previously worked in Croatia in children’s theatre, Tina as an actress and Kristina as a writer. When they came together it was only natural that their first joint project would reflect their need to juggle career with motherhood, and often failing. Wonder Woman is the result.
This funny, bright and insightful hour of theatre addresses the modern curse of pursuing perfect parenthood. How much easier would it be if you needed to pass a series of tests and earn a sheaf of certificates before you were allowed to procreate. That way you could be certain that you knew everything, were confident in how to parent and were ready for the trials of motherhood. On top of that father’s-to-be would be made to understand that reproducing has consequences, not just the responsibility of parenthood but the things they will have to do without, privacy, sex, money! Oh yes, the girls gave chapter and verse about the side effects of  maternity.
This is a play that should be compulsive viewing for all teenagers, especially those ‘yearning for a baby’
As this production tours they regularly do ‘relaxed’ matinees, shows where mothers are encouraged to bring their toddlers with them. No-one cares if they run around or cry or need feeding.
Wonder Woman – The Naked Truth is on tour and will return to Leicester in October
Full details are on http://notnowcollective.com/




29/03/2017

Dr Frankenstein


Review by: Paul Towers, 29 March 2017
Dr Frankenstein based on the novel by Mary Shelley, adapted by Selma Dimitrijevic
A Northern Stage  & Greyscale co-production
Curve – 27 March – 1 April

“re-imagining of the classic gothic horror”

This re-imagining of the classic gothic horror makes the Doctor a woman, thus doubling the character’s feelings of being outside society. In Victorian times a woman was not supposed to have a career let alone have a mind of her own!
The impressive set, designed by Tom Piper, is a soaring collection of smoky mirrored towers hiding doors and cupboards which are revealed and then hidden by very clever lighting designed by Lizzie Powell. In the background is a nicely unobtrusive soundtrack which bursts unexpectedly into life as a storm hits and brings the monster alive.
A great cast of seven is led by Polly Frame as Doctor Victoria Frankenstein, a mixture of Maria from Sound of Music and a female Dr Who. The Monster, played by Ed Gaughan, lumbered around frightening both the cast and the audience as he struggled to make head or tail (pun intended!) of his past. Victoria Elliot as the Doctor’s level headed sister, Elizabeth, along with Donald McBride as their father, try and maintain some sense of normality in the family while Elizabeth’s beau, Henry Clerval (Scott Turbull) tries to liaise between the sisters.  Libby Davison as Mary the maid and Rachel Denning as housekeeper Justine are both loyal and caring of the family.
The script had to ignore several salient aspects of the original story to enable it to be staged and the adaptor, Selma Dimitrijevic, has take the opportunity to address a couple of issues, namely the lack of female emancipation in the Victorian era and a whole debate about whether the scientific end justifies the means. This last illustrated by the Dr’s messianic delusions as the Monster is revealed to be dying from the inherent flaws in the scientific theory of reanimation.
Doctor Frankenstein is on at Curve until Saturday 1st April
Tickets available at www.curveonline.co.uk
Details of the ongoing tour are at www.northernstage.co.uk








28/03/2017

Rent


Review by: Paul Towers, 28 March 2017
Rent by Jonathan Larson
20th anniversary production by Robert Mackintosh & Idill Theatricals Ltd
Curve – 28 March – 1 April

“a rock opera of modern hardships.”

There are a fair few theatrical musicals that can be called crowd pleasers and in amongst those there are a few that are iconic. Rent is that rare breed of musical that everyone with even an inkling of musical theatre appreciation should see at least once.
I first saw Rent at Leicester’s Haymarket Theatre in 2001 when it was directed by our very own Paul Kerryson who then took it out on a national tour.
This 20th anniversary production is directed by Bruce Guthrie on a set by Loren Elstein and features friend of Curve, Lucie Jones (last seen in Legally Blonde) as Maureen.
Rent is a story, echoing elements of opera La Boheme, about AIDS, poverty, drug use and homelessness in New York’s East Village, an area where the struggling artists and bohemians gravitated to.
The set is a mass of girders, cast iron plates and discarded boxes. A very suitable backdrop for this raucous rock opera of modern hardships.
Overseeing this suffering is budding film-maker Mark (Billy Cullum) who documents it without really getting involved (a genius way to narrate the story). Mark’s room-mate is Roger (Ross Hunter) and he gets a call from their gay friend Tom (Ryan O’Gorman) who is on his way over to their apartment. Unfortunately he is mugged but is rescued by drag queen Angel (superbly played by Layton Williams) with whom he falls in love.
Along the way, as they all battle to stop developers tearing down their miserable bit of Manhatten, various people discover they have AIDS, mirroring author Larson’s friendship circle in the 80’s, a time when HIV meant only months to live.
This may all sound very depressing. But it isn’t. Alongside the amazing music there are loads of  little funny bits to lift the spirits and Angel’s drag antics are life affirming in their own right, supplying a sole sparkle of much needed glamour.
The entire cast are very physical, beautifully choreographed by Lee Proud and easily fill the main stage at Curve, despite having an onstage band squirreled away on one side.
While most of the numbers are not what you would call hummable the second half opener, Seasons of Love, is the one that everyone will remember. Alongside, of course, Lucie Jones’ bonkers rendition of Over The Moon.
Rent, and especially this production, is still as relevant as it was 20 years ago and continues to tour throughout the year.

Tour details on www.rentonstage.co.uk
Tickets for Curve at www.curveonline.co.uk

First published on Western Gazette













22/03/2017

Pygmalion


Review by: Paul Towers, 22 March 2017
Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw
A Headlong, Nuffield Southampton Theatre & West Yorshire co-production
Curve 21 – 25 March 2017

"‘a reimagined director’s cut’ of a standard"

When George Bernard Shaw (notice the correct name of the author) wrote Pygmalion in 1912 it was an immediate hit and has been regularly performed in the ensuing 100+ years including a 1938 film and the iconic 1964 musical, My Fair Lady.
This version, ‘a reimagined director’s cut’ updates it, according to the programme, to modern day Britain in a suitably futuristic set.
As we walked into the auditorium we were confronted with what looked like a builder’s demolition site hoarding with an observation slit at eye level. Playing over this was a litany of vocal exercise sounds which, I guess, were supposed to prepare us for the storyline of vocal alteration.
Suddenly the cast appeared in front of the set and started to lip sync to recorded dialogue like a rather bizarre version of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. To compound the confusion the various characters changed accents and even genders. It was rather like a dodgy Victorian séance.
Fortunately this bewilderment soon passed as the real story began, Eliza was accosted by Henry Higgins and Col Pickering, played by Alex Beckett and Raphael Sowole, outside a flower market and coerced into being the linguistic plaything of  phonetics fanatic Higgins.
So far so good, if you ignore the muddle of the miming opening.
Once the trio make it to the Professor’s workroom (looking eerily like What The Butler Saw’s circular antiseptic set) it all  becomes wearily self indulgent as a wide array of electronic devices are used to amuse Higgins. Rather like a first year student let loose in a sound lab with an auto tuner and a synthesiser, this is all just too self congratulatory to be interesting.
All through the first half they kept returning to their electronic toys and it was very boring.
The second half was much better as, aside from a minor piece of technological fiddling, gimmicks were abandoned as Higgins had to try and deal with the repercussions of his transformation of Eliza
I can understand that a piece of theatre that is over 100 years old can be updated and modernised but it is just a mess when you only do half a job. This production is supposedly set in modern times and yet they still refer to pennies and pounds, Eliza is sold for £5. The film of Eliza getting a cab to Walpole Street clearly shows a fare of  modern day extravagance. And what on earth is Liza doing speaking in a broad Northern accent? Her father is a cockney, she is a cockney flower seller not a Northern slattern. Her accent was less believable than Audrey Hepburn’s, or even Dick Van Dyke’s.
Then of course, there are questions about the actual production that are left unanswered. Why was Mrs Higgins’ drawing room in a glass box? Why did they take off their head mikes halfway through the final scene?
Pygmalion runs at Curve until Saturday 25 March
Full details at www.curveonline.co.uk
First published in Western Gazette












20/03/2017

The Play That Goes Wrong



Review by: Paul Towers, 20 March 2017
The Play That Goes Wrong by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields
Mischief Theatre production
Curve 20 – 25 March 2017

“The Play That Goes Wrong is so right”

Still running in London’s West End after 4 years The Play That Goes Wrong is halfway through a nationwide tour. This has to be the funniest theatrical experiences you will every see. From the moment the audience starts to trickle into the auditorium you are greeted with various members of the ‘backstage staff’ frantically searching for a missing  cast member. A dog. This pre-show lunacy sets the scene for a riotous amateur production of a standard murder mystery which descends into utter mayhem.
With exquisite timing the cast of  12 endure a catalogue of missed cues, dropped props and scenery that misbehaves.
As the director and senior cast member Chris Bean, Patrick Warner wears the supercilious sneer so beloved of John Challis in Only Fools and Horses as he tries desperately to maintain some sort of control over proceedings. Eventually even his patience wears thin and he descends into the type of anarchic hysteria that would make Basil Fawlty  baulk.
The entire cast give very physical performances as the scenery conspires against them with an array of falling pictures, stuck doors and collapsing floors. Especial praise must go to Edward Judge as Robert, expertly channelling James Cordon in 1 Man 2 Governors, who does a fine furniture juggling routine on a fallen floor. Alistair Kirton as Max has fun demolishing the theatrical fourth wall by mugging to the audience at every opportunity. I could go on as every single cast member gives 110%.
The Play That Goes Wrong is so right and delivers an evening of hysterical laughter from the curtain up to the final demolition of the set.
A full house at Curve stumbled out into the rain with tears already streaming down their faces.
The Play That Goes Wrong is touring til August 2017
Tickets available for Curve at www.curveonline.co.uk
First published on Western Gazette






08/03/2017

What The Butler Saw - Curve


Review by: Paul Towers, 08 March 2017
What The Butler Saw by Joe Orton
Curve and Theatre Royal Bath co-production directed by Nikolai Foster
Curve 3-18 March2017

“You will rarely leave a theatre having laughed so much”

It is fitting that Leicester’s Curve is producing a 50th anniversary production of Joe Orton’s final masterpiece, What The Butler Saw in his home town.
On the surface this is ‘just a farce’ but when you factor in Orton’s mischievous corruption of Wildean-style aphorisms you get an outrageous romp through a whole catalogue of post censorship taboo subjects.
Delivered at a pace that leaves you gasping with laughter just as the next barbed comment is delivered, the characters aim vicious insults at a wide variety of targets. Orton was notorious for his utter contempt for all sorts of authority figures and here the police and psychiatrists take the most flak with a healthy dose of disdain aimed at modern (1960’s) views on gender swapping, cross dressing, nudity and marital discord.
Although Joe Orton finished writing the play in July 1967 mere weeks before his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, kills him and then commits suicide, it wasn’t until 1969 that What The Butler Saw was finally staged, having to wait for the abolition of the contentious 1737 Licensing Act and 1843 Theatres Act whereby all scripts had to be approved by a Government body, latterly the Lord Chamberalin's office.
The set for this play is a beautifully imagined psychiatrist’s office, large, round and pristine with a requisite number of doors through which characters enter and exit at a dizzying rate. Designed by Michael Taylor it perfectly contains the cast of  six who seem to revolve in and out, round and round while getting nowhere except tied up in knots of their own making.
While most farces are quite happy to take liberties with logical behaviour Orton happily throws logic out of the window and takes the most outrageous liberties with believability all in the pursuit of a laugh. As the second act comes to a close and, somehow, he has to tie all the loose ends together, the action gets more and more unbelievable and more hilarious.
The cast is ably led by Rufus Hound (last seen in Leicester with 1 Man, 2 Governors) and Jasper Britton on his first visit to Leicester. It is a welcome back to Dakota Blue Richards, last seen here in A Streetcar Named Desire, and  Ravi Aujla returning after his last visit at the old Haymarket. Jack Holden, spending most of the production near naked, and Catherine Russell, last seen here in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, complete the enormously energetic cast.
If you can get a ticket before 18 March, do so. You will rarely leave a theatre having laughed so much. The production transfers to The Theatre Royal, Bath for 27 March – 1 April 2017

First published on Western Gazette

06/03/2017

The Full Monty - DMH


Review by: Paul Towers, 06 March 2017
The Full Monty by Simon Beaufoy
A Sheffield Theatres production directed by Jack Ryder
DeMontfort Hall 6 – 11 March 2017

“The Full Monty is everything the publicity promised and more.”

Much has been said in the media of late about disruptive audience members. Usually this refers to those inconsiderate enough to continue using their mobile phones during a performance, tweeting every nuance of the production or even  filming the show. But tonight at DeMontfort Hall we were repeatedly disturbed by women getting up during the show to go to the toilet. Does it not seem logical that if you consume several glasses of wine before the show that your bladder  will not survive a 50 minute first half? I find it incredibly disrespectful to the actors and the other audience members to be so selfish.
So, rant over, let me say that despite the disruptions The Full Monty is everything the publicity promised (‘terrific’ and ‘chuffing brilliant’) and more. Right from the moment the curtain went up we were laughing out loud at a barrage of one-liners and awkward situations. This show not for the faint hearted and you should be aware there is plenty of ‘language’. Understandable when you remember this is about a group of redundant working class labourers desperate to make some money as male strippers for a night.
The cast are nearing the end of a nationwide tour and it shows. They are incredibly comfortable with each other and the physical comedy between them has been honed to wring every laugh out of the many prat falls in the wonderful script by Simon Beaufoy. Somehow the stage show is even funnier than the film despite a few dark moments. The child playing Nathan, 12 year old Monty Poole I think, stole every scene he was in.
The cast is led by Gary Lucy (Hollyoaks & Footballers’ Wives), Andrew Dunn (Dinnerladies) and a very hard working ensemble of  14.
The set is a suitably rusting Sheffield steel works lying idle after work has dried up. With loads of props and various sliding panels in the back it transforms into every scene needed. Much of the music from the original film is included and yes, they do get to keep their hats on, at least until the very last moment!
The audience, predominantly female and tanked up on Lambrini, whooped and hollered everywhere they were expected to and a few extra alcohol-fuelled places as well. This is a girls-night-out kind of show.
The Full Monty is on until Sat 11 March and there may be a few tickets left, but don’t leave it too long before you buy. The tour continues til April when it returns to its home, Sheffield.
www.demontforthall.co.uk for full details.

First published on Western Gazette

03/03/2017

Carol Leeming's Enchanter


Review by: Paul Towers, 03 March 2017
Enchanter by Carol Leeming
Upstairs @ The Western, 3rd March 2017

“Carol Leeming explores her cultural roots.”

Despite a late start due to the inclement weather Carol Leeming lived up to her reputation and produced an idiosyncratic new work which goes some way towards exploring her cultural roots
Dressed in a voluminous silver robe and a mirrored straw hat, both inspired by her ancestral antecedents, Ms Leeming sang and spoke as a precursor to a special showing of her acclaimed short film Enchanter.
Carol has long been admired for her singing voice and here she demonstrates her adaptability in styles as diverse as Gospel and native African as she alludes to the slave trade of the 19th century.
The film Enchanter is a beautifully shot monochrome love song which captures the transient quality of finding emotional fulfilment. The whole look being very reminiscent of a Middle Eastern souk
A short Q &A session at the end of part 1 allowed the audience to ask questions of both Carol and Rob, the film-maker.
The second half of the evening was taken up with readings from her debut book of poems, The Declamations of Cool Eye
First published on Western Gazette