Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

29/06/2017

Half a sixpence

 Review by: Paul Towers, 28 June 2017
Half A Sixpence by David Heneker & Beverley Cross after HGWells
Cameron Mackintosh/Chichester Festival Theatre co-production
Noel Coward Theatre, London

“a stonking riot of a musical”

This current reworking of the old classic musical, famously starring Tommy Steele on film, has been given a new lease of life by Cameron Mackintosh and the Chichester Festival Theatre by bringing in Julian Fellowes to rewrite the book and Stiles & Drewe to provide additional original songs. The result is a stonking riot of a musical which has taken the West End by storm and has made a star of leading man Charlie Stemp.
HG Wells’ original story was a semi autobiographical tale of his early beginnings in a haberdashery store.
This musical version takes that humble beginning and turns it into a sweet love story and a cautionary tale of the dangers of letting money turn your head.
On a warm Wednesday matinee the understudy, Sam O’Rourke, took the lead role of Arthur Kipps and made it his own. A fine singing voice was complimented by energetic dancing and a great stab at playing the banjo. This is a visual treat for the eyes as the cast swap costumes at the speed of light and the scenery twirls around as locations change form the fabric store to the bar to the various homes all in a twinkling of the eye. Add to this the beautiful back projections that conjure up sun, sea and scenery along the Kent coast. All of this set in the beautiful Matcham designed Noel Coward Theatre in London’s West End.
This show is the perfect show to take your children and grandparents to, and anyone else in-between who appreciates lavish musical theatre.
Full details to book tickets on www.halfasixpence.co.uk



Review by: Paul Towers, 29/8/17
Half A Sixpence
Charlie Stemp
Noel Coward Theatre,London

It is rare that I want to revisit a production so soon after my original viewing but being given the opportunity the return to the West End’s Noel Coward Theatre to see Charlie Stemp in the lead role during the very last week of the show’s London run was too good to miss.
Watching Stemp I felt I was witnessing the birth of a new musical theatre star. His balletic dancing skills perfectly compliment his comic timing and characterful singing voice. The perfect triple threat.
I had no complaints when I saw the understudy go on a couple of months ago but Stemp has made the role his own looking and sounding like a young Tommy Steele (the creator of the original role) but even more talented.
His energy seems to catapult the rest of the cast into even more energetic performances, leaving them all dripping with sweat by the end of the night. This boy will go far and I can’t wait to see where he goes next.

27/06/2017

Car Park KIng



Review by: Paul Towers, 27 June 2017
Car Park King by Jessica McDonagh
Every Egg A Bird Theatre Company production – James Beglin, Jessica McDonagh & Kris W Laudrum
Upstairs @ The Western, 27th – 28th June 2017

“Horrible Histories for grown ups.”

Car Park King is a comedy loosely, very loosely, based on the life of Leicester’s very own King Richard the Third and probably yet another thorn in the side of the Richard III Society.
You know you are in for a good laugh when even the programme causes you to chuckle on the way into the auditorium. This wholly original comedy, written and acted by Jessica McDonagh and her able company of James Beglina and Kris W Laudrum is an absurd mixture of Monty Python, Blackadder and Horrible Histories for grown ups. Right from the moment the lights dim the gags start to flow and don’t stop for the next hour and 20 minutes.
The set is a wall of heraldic shields with windows that enable multiple costume changes to be done in a split second and is also the repository for the many props.
James Beglin as Richard is the single constant as the other two cast members play a couple of dozen peripheral characters in wacky costumes, very weird wigs, hats and various accents, not all of which are necessarily appropriate except for comedy value.
As we make our way through the turbulent life of Richard, often paying scant attention to linear storytelling, we canter through his childhood, his brother’s death, his ascension to the crown, his marriage and ultimately his fateful decision to play the big man on a field in Bosworth before ending up under a council car park in Leicester.
Car Park King is back at Upstairs at The Western on Wednesday 28th June although it is probably sold out again.
Full details of the tour can be found at http://bit.do/dxx6R

First published on Western Gazette and London Pub Theatres


25/06/2017

Jonny Awsum & Juliette Burton


Review by: Paul Towers, 25 June 2017
Edinburgh previews shows – Jonny Awsum & Juliette Burton
Upstairs @ The Western, 25 June 2017

“two plus hours of comedy for less than the price of a packet of cigarettes”

Back at Upstairs at The Western for another Edinburgh Festival preview show. Again two plus hours of comedy for less than the price of a packet of cigarettes. How can you not be satisfied?
Jonny Awsum (not his real name as he amusingly revealed) was a semi finalist on this year’s Britain’s Got Talent. He is like a grown up children’s entertainer who regaled us with a lovely tale of attempting to fulfil a promise he made to his daughter when she was a babe in arms five years ago. Interspersed with the highs and lows of his journey are a bevy of great original songs and amusing stories which move the narrative along. Not only does he write the songs and strum along on a guitar but there is also tons of audio visuals to go with it.
Funnily enough his appearance on BGT appears only as an almost postscript to his travails.
The other half of this great double bill is Juliette Burton heading to Edinburgh for her third successive Fringe. Juliette’s comedy is that of awkwardness and middle class angst. Looking a lot like the lost child of Anneka Rice, she tries to explain how she copes with her multiple mental illnesses while still attempting to be more kind to herself and those around her. Again she interspersed her comedy with video links and audio samples. At times it did seem like we were eavesdropping on her therapy session but it was all lifted up with her self deprecating sense of the absurd humour in her life.
Both artistes are on tour up to and beyond the Edinburgh Festival
Jonny Awsum’s tour dates can be found on www.jonnyawsum.com
Juliette Burton’s website is www.julietteburton.co.uk

First published on Western Gazette and London Pub Theatres


22/06/2017

Kiri Pritchard-McLean & Gein’s Family Giftshop



Paul Towers, 22 June 2017
Edinburgh preview show – Kiri Pritchard-McLean and Gein’s Family Giftshop
Upstairs @ The Western, 22 June 2017

“self deprecating humour”

Both of these acts have graced the little stage Upstairs at The Western before en route to the Edinburgh Festival, and both acts are welcome back any time.
Kiri Pritchard-McLean last year entertained us with her domestic arrangements and life with along term lover. This year, newly single and wondering if she is getting broody, she regales us with stories of her Welsh family and being a volunteer mentor to vulnerable kids. While she touches briefly on modern politics (hard to avoid these days) it is her vacillating on parenthood and how, when or even if to achieve it or avoid it al together that provides many laughs. Kiri already has a profile on TV and radio and deserves a wider audience.
Also on this double bill (amazing value for £6!) is the renowned Gein’s Family Giftshop. If, like me, you have never seen their show then ignore the name, it is no indication of the chaotic and surreal world this group of lunatic sketch artists inhabit.
As with all preview shows these are works in progress, a means to try out material before an audience. As such some of the sketches worked better than others but both acts’ self deprecating humour and eagerness to engage with the audience smoothed over any bumps in the flow of the evening.
Full details of upcoming performances can be found at http://www.kiripritchardmclean.co.uk/ and http://www.geinsfamilygiftshop.co.uk/

First published on Western Gazette and Pub Theatre blog
 

18/06/2017

A Scholar and a Statesman


Review by: Paul Towers, 18 June 2017
A Scholar and a Statesman
Written by Pamela Roberts, directed by Carol Leeming
Attenborough Arts Centre 18 June 2017

“the story of an enigmatic man.”

James Arthur Harley was born in 1873 in Antigua, a West Indian island which has since forged close ties with the UK. Showing incredible ambition for the time he managed to enrol in Howard University in Washington DC before moving to Yale and then to Harvard to study Semitic Languages and thence to Oxford to study first theology and then anthropology. The obvious career path for a man of his intellect was to become an educator of some kind. Instead he decided to join the church and served as a curate in Shepshed before moving to Marshside in Kent with his wife who relocated from Antigua to marry him. Sadly their longed for child died far too early, possibly before or during childbirth, and this seems to have precipitated their eventual separation and his wife’s ultimate return to her family on the Caribbean island. This may also have led to his eventual disillusionment with the church and he returned to Shepshed to serve as a councillor both locally and for the county until his death in 1943.
Pamela Roberts has taken these bare bones of what is known of this local hero and, through extensive research, has pieced together as much as is possible of this enigmatic man and his lifelong battle against racism.
Directed by local dramaturge Carol Leeming, this staged reading sought to display the written words of the play before an audience for the first time. The cast of 7, some experienced actors, some not so, brought the story to life in the minimal setting of one of the Attenborough Centre’s versatile spaces. Led by Corey Trevor as Harley and Mumba Dodwell as his wife Josephine the cast gave spirited  readings from the script. It would be very interesting to see this brought to a stage in a full production.
More background to the project can be found at http://bit.do/dwME9

First published on Western Gazette

03/06/2017

Northern Ballet's The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas


Review by: Paul Towers, 03 June 2017
The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas – Northern Ballet
Curve – 2/3 June 2017

incredibly downbeat and depressing”

Hm, OK, let’s get a few things out of the way before we start. Is a concentrate camp in WW2 a fitting location for a ballet? No, but that is where the story takes place so we have no choice. Should the story be told? A resounding yes. Is ballet the ideal medium. No.
The story itself is incredibly downbeat and depressing. The son of the concentration camp commandant and a young internee strike up a friendship across the barbed wire. It is naturally frowned upon by the authorities but they surreptitiously continue to meet. As young boys do, they wanted to be the same so the commandant’s son dressed as the internee in the titular striped pyjamas which leads to him being herded up with his playmate and led off to the gas chambers.
I have never seen either the film or the play but apparently a whole lot of detail has had to be missed out. None of which, supposedly, would add anything here.
The main problem with this production is that the story moves along so slowly and is padded out to, ostensibly, showcase the dancers’ undisputed technical abilities. However that makes for boring viewing. The two 50 minute halves could quite easily have been got through in a single hour without losing any of the story.
Death, in the shape of a wraith-like apparition lifted straight from Game of Thrones or Lord of The Rings, hovers over the entire story and, to be honest, I could have done with him wiping out the entire cast after 10 minutes. In fact, during the initial scene in the commandant’s office, surrounded by camp guards (and I do mean camp guards), I was praying for them to burst into a chorus of Springtime For Hitler from The Producers. How can you take seriously a troop of soldiers prancing around in traditional ballet moves? They are hardly intimidating. They look like a whole flock of Mirandas!
Next we come to the soundtrack, an eclectic mix of harsh, jagged sounds to illustrate the appalling conditions of the prisoners and the discipline of the warders, interspersed on a couple of occasions with the gentler tones of the boys’ the interaction. Neither makes for particularly easy listening.
The set, scenery and lighting are used to good effect
The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas is on tour for the rest of the year. Full details at www.northernballet.com

First published on Western Gazette