Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

29/04/2017

Octopus


Review by: Paul Towers, 29 April 2017
Octopus by Afsaneh Gray, directed by Pia Furtado
Paper Tiger Productions and Greenwich Theatre in association with Fine Mess Theatre
Upstairs @ The Western, 29 April 2017

“a dystopian nightmare of racial profiling.”

Imagine Scotland has got independence. Imagine UKIP got their xenophobic way. Imagine we were all liable to be called in to an assessment centre to justify our British-ness. This is the dystopian nightmare that Paper Tiger’s latest production drags us into.
A talented cast of three show us the increasingly warped ‘logic’ behind racial profiling in this socially apocalyptic Britain.
Sara is sort of Asian, an accountant and very sure of her British-ness. She contributes, after all.
Scheharezade is sort of Middle Eastern; actually she’s Iranian but prefers to call herself Persion, “Iran isn’t that popular at the moment”. She’s dyslexic and on benefits while she waits to sell one of her tapestries.
Sarah is white. White as can be. Blue eyed blonde and ditzy. Only it turns out she has a Jamaican grandfather so that makes her quarter black, “I can’t be black. My mother would have told me”
As the three characters’ stories unfold it becomes more and more obvious that being British isn’t as straightforward as we first thought. If we all dig a little under the surface there are many things to dilute that perceived British-ness. But that’s what makes us British, that melting pot.
A very talented cast of Alexandra D'Sa, Dilek Rose, Samara MacLaren bring these characters to life with pathos, neurosis and humour as they battle anxiety and ignorance to discover how un-British their British-ness really is
Although this play is billed as a post Brexit satire it is, thankfully, nothing of the sort.
What it is is a warning of what could be if an idiot like Trump ever got the keys to Number 10

Octopus is touring throughout the country. Full details at www.papertiger.org.uk
First published on Western Gazette and Pub Theatre blog


27/04/2017

Gratiano


Review by: Paul Towers, 27 April 2017
Gratiano by Ross Ericson
Grist To The Mill production performed by Ross Ericson, directed by Michelle Yim
Upstairs @ The Western, 27 April 2017

“a bravado monologue.”

For someone who just cannot get their head round Shakespeare’s iambic pentameters this production gives a nicely accessible précis of The Merchant of Venice, albeit re-imagined in Mussolini’s Italy.
In the original Gratiano is a very minor character, a friend of  Bassanio, the object of  Antonio’s unrequited love. Here he has been arrested for his erstwhile friend’s murder and, with typical verbal incontinence, blurts out to the Police the full story of Shylock, Bassanio, Antonio and their ultimate day in court.
In his cups, Gratiano bemoans his fate in faux Shakespearean verse propped up in a bar. Alternating with this despair we hear the whole sorry tale in modern vernacular as he is interrogated by the Police. This makes the story much more understandable.
Once again Ross Ericson has written and performs a bravado monologue.
An unobtrusive soundtrack of music and effects accurately places us in war-torn Italy and easily signals scene changes along with creative lighting.
This production tours in tandem with The Unknown Soldier, seen at Upstairs at The Western last night. Full details are available at www.gristtheatre.co.uk

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

26/04/2017

The Unknown Soldier


Review by: Paul Towers, 26 April 2017
The Unknown Soldier by Ross Ericson
Grist To The Mill production, directed by Michelle Yim
Upstairs @ The Western, 24th – 29th August 2015

“a multi layered portrayal of the horror of the trenches”

As we trooped into the intimate auditorium of Upstairs at the Western the all pervading drip drip of the rain reinforced the spartan misery of the trenches of World War One France. The guns had fallen silent two years previously but there was still grisly work to be done. The battlefields had to be cleared of bodies; fallen soldiers had to be buried or repatriated. Jack, a west country soldier had volunteered to stay on and help with the clear-up. His motives weren’t entirely altruistic. He had made a promise to his best mate, Tom, that he would get him home, by hook or by crook. Killed in the last salvos of the war Jack was determined to find his buddy and somehow keep his promise. An opportunity came when the top brass were looking for an unidentified body to be shipped home and entombed in Westminster Abbey as the Unknown Warrior, just as the French had done. Surreptitiously Jack swapped the chosen corpse for Tom’s and he was able to keep his last promise.
Written and performed by Ross Ericson this is a multi layered portrayal of the horror of the trenches juxtaposed with the intense comradeship of two disparate souls brought together through war. The narrative is broken up with verses of prose, while the narrative is liberally laced with the dark humour that terror so often produces.
The scene where Jack relives the final onslaught from the German artillery is visceral and illustrates perfectly why so many young men returned from the battlefields frightened out of their wits.
Ericson’s powerful performance takes us right into the trenches, up to our knees in mud with mortars flying over our heads. Then, just as horrifically, we listen as he explains with macabre humour how he spends his days pulling body parts out of the muddy ground, sometimes forlornly attempting to match them up to men listed as missing.
As the Last Post finally sounds we, the audience, breathe a sigh of relief that we never had to experience that gut wrenching, sustained fight for life, and hopefully never will.
Tomorrow, Thursday 27th April, the same company is back at Upstairs at The Western with another production, Gratiano, an imagined sequel to Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.
Both production continue to tour. Full details are at  www.gristtheatre.co.uk/

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

21/04/2017

Cloaks


Review by: Paul Towers, 21 April 2017
Cloaks by Alison Dunne
An Ivoryfishbone production – directed by Alison Dunne and performed by Lesley Emery and Charlotte Bond
Upstairs @ The Western, 21/4/17

“sparkling dialogue”

Kath works in the cloakroom at the local theatre hanging up the coats of the theatre goers. This leaves her plenty of time between performances to reminisce about her life while putting up with her friend Kim’s awful jokes and incessantly cheery chatter.
As frustrated matriarch Kath, Lesley Emery leads the performance while Charlotte Bond snaffles coats from the rack to become a range of characters from Kath’s erstwhile husband, Bryn,  to her Mum, Dad and sister.
The sparkling dialogue reminds me of a laid back Victoria Wood and Dunne is just as capable of veering from laugh out loud to tearful poignancy as we experience Kath’s disappointment at failing to conceive and her subsequent divorce.
My only gripe is that there was no programme or even fact sheet to detail some background about the author, cast and crew. I know that these productions at Upstairs at The Western are done on a shoestring but the participants deserve recognition.
This sold out performance will be repeated at Newbold Verdon library on April 22nd
Details of future shows can be found on https://ivoryfishbone.wordpress.com/

First published on Western Gazette and Pub Theatre blog

10/04/2017

Champions of Magic


Review by: Paul Towers, 10 April 2017
Champions of Magic
Curve – 10 April 2017 and touring

“a wonderfully entertaining evening suitable for the entire family”

I grew up watching magic shows on the television. From the black and white of David Nixon to the full colour of Paul Daniels to Derren Brown, I have been mesmerised by their tricks and illusions. Strangely I have never got round to seeing a full, professional magic show on a  stage. Sure I have seen a couple in pubs, namely the gloriously named Fay Presto back in the 80’s when she came and did a few tricks at a pub I ran in South London, but never in a proper theatre.
So it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I turned out to Curve to see the Champions of Magic touring show. This is a nice mix of styles of illusionists providing a varied evening of entertainment for all tastes. The sell out crowd were certainly well pleased.
The evening started off with a beautifully choreographed dove routine from the young but very talented Edward Hilsum. Looking as though he is barely out of short trousers, this is a mature talent that never puts a foot wrong. While some may say he is short on patter his immaculate moves and sleight of hand more than compensates
Next onto the vast stage of Curve’s main auditorium was the mistress of close-up magic and patter, Fay Presto, with some very intimate magic which worked very well.
By way of a change Alex McAleer, channeling Derren Brown but without the tics, proceeded to mesmerise us by reading minds and generally messing with our heads.
After the interval he was back playing even more games with the audience before getting Fay Presto back for some charming interaction with children in the audience. This was followed by Edward Hilsum with another exquisite piece of deliberate close-up manipulation.
Finally we had the chaotic and manic world of Young & Strange, a pair of strange (and young) magicians specialising in the larger illusions with an anarchic twist.
Altogether this was a wonderfully entertaining evening suitable for the entire family, as was evident by the sizable number of youngsters enjoying an Easter treat.
Full details of the tour are at www.championsofmagic.co.uk
First published on Western Gazette

05/04/2017

Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox


Review by: Paul Towers, 24/8/2015
Roald Dahl’s Fantastick Mr Fox adapted by Sam Holcroft
A Curve, Nuffield Southampton, Lyric Hammersmith co-production
Music and lyrics by Arthur Darvill, Darren Clark, Sam Holcroft & Al Muriel
Curve 3 – 9 April 2017

“Dahl’s dubious taste is to the fore.”

Continuing with Curve’s outstanding previous success with The Witches and The Twits this is the latest of Dahl’s books to reach our stage
As with all Roald Dahl children’s books Fantastic Mr Fox is liberally laced with enough gore, gunge and bad taste to keep any schoolboy delighted for its entirety.
Mr Fox is the Leslie Philips of the fox world, the saviour of the forest’s animal kingdom. Well, at least that is what he thinks. In truth he has to confront the realisation that he can’t save the world single-handed and has to co-operate with his wildlife chums, badger, rabbit, mouse and mole, along with his daughter and pregnant wife.
Up against this feral band of companions are the greedy, unprincipled farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean, hell bent on clearing the forest to prevent their chickens being stolen.
Dahl’s dubious taste is to the fore from the very start with what looks like a cute Supremes style song which quickly descends into a literal description of the despatching of  chickens for the table. The onstage band, discreetly tucked away in a top corner, provides not only the soundtrack but many of the various special effects.
Greg Barnett as the eponymous Fantastic Mr Fox is suave and sexy in a  shell suit as he makes the ladies swoon and the men worship his cunning schemes. One expects his teeth to gleam every time he smiles. Lillie Flynn (very appropriate casting as her stage husband thinks he is Errol Flynn) is Mrs Fox, the power behind the ego. As the four musketeers, Badger (Raphael Bushay), Rabbit (Sandy Foster), Mole (Gruffudd Glyn) and Mouse (Kelly Jackson) Mr Fox has a true band of allies in his fight against the dastardly farmers.
The set is an epic masterpiece of versatility, a multi tiered cake-like edifice that turns on several levels with surprisingly complex scene changes. This allows for many very quick costume changes and some very knock-about slapstick chases.
This is pure Dahl with a surface story that any child over 5 will be able to follow while there are plenty of bits and pieces to keep adults amused. Watch out especially for a rather risqué routine about sex toys which will go straight over the heads of anyone under about 15 (I hope)
Fantastic Mr Fox continues at Curve until Sunday 9th April and then on tour
Tickets from Curve on www.curveonline.co.uk
Details of the tour are on www.fantasticmrfoxlive.com
First published on Western Gazette




























03/04/2017

The Odyssey (Greek stuff)


Review by: Paul Towers, 03 April 2017
The Odyssey by Simon Harvey & David Mynne
Rabbit Theatre production – David Mynne
Upstairs @ The Western, 3/4/17 and touring

“epic, heroic and magical ….. lunacy”

The mythical tales of the Greek gods of ancient times are, by their very definition, epic, heroic and magical. Translating them into a one-man show is, on the face of it, a fools errand. How do you depict storms at sea, enchanting creatures of the deep and sorcerous sirens on an almost bare stage with just a scrap of cloth as a costume? The answer is to enrol the talents of Rabbit Theatre, aka Simon Harvey and David Mynne. This genius pair have a track record for producing hugely entertaining one-man shows which tour endlessly and The Odyssey is yet another sure fire winner.
With one man, four boxes and a piece of blue cloth David Mynne conjures up the saga of Odysseus as he uses the Trojan horse to take the city of Troy, defeats the gargantuan Cyclops and narrowly rescues his beloved wife Penelope from the hands of an interloper.
Liberally sprinkled amongst the traditional narrative are numerous surreal detours and side adventures casually thrown in to raise a laugh and move the story along. This is Play School for grown ups as Mynne produces teeny tiny models, creates voices and throws the cloth around to suggest costumes.
To my ageing eyes this hilarious lunacy is inspired by Michael Bentine’s Potty Time as he paints pictures with words and sounds.
Right from the get go David Mynne had the audience Upstairs at The Western in the palm of his hand as he welcomed us into his world of fantasy.
The Odyssey is on tour. Details can be found at www.rabbittheatre.com

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/