Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

26/10/2017

The Leftovers


Review by: Paul Towers, 26 October 2017
The Leftovers by Nic Harvey and Rob Green
Sheep Soup Productions & Curve presentation
Curve 26 – 28th October 2017

“The Leftovers. I am unimpressed”

According to the promotional programme handed out The Leftovers ‘in the confines of a community recording studio, friends of the late Jodie gather to record .. something. What would she have wanted? What kind of music best represents her, honours her? The boundaries of artistic license and ‘appropriate’ responses to grief are tested, as The Leftovers search for their own roads towards moving on’.
What we got was a directionless text linking some original songs which, in another context, would have been noteworthy. The title, The Leftovers, is entirely appropriate. This is a collection of leftover songs strung together with a lacklustre script.
A play or musical should grab the audience’s attention and connect with  them within the first ten minutes. By the time the interval came round I still couldn’t have cared less about the characters or the story.
There is a line early on spoken by one of the actors about a song which says ‘the writer should know what it is trying to say’. I concur.
I felt like I was eavesdropping on a group of friends but I don’t know any of them. They are chatting in that shorthand that long time friends have which excludes strangers to a greater degree because you don’t know the back story. Throughout the narrative a certain section of the audience, probably friends and families, was laughing uproariously while the rest of us sat in silence, once again reinforcing the feeling that we were on the outside looking in and not understanding what was going on.
Right from the start we are expected to empathise with the loss of someone we don’t know. By the time we have been let into enough aspects of her character it is too late. Apathy has set in.
The actors’ voices are great. They can certainly sing. There is no doubt about that. And they can deliver lines. Ben Welch as Jim, the sound engineer is the strongest actor and singer but they all have very little to work with when they are not singing. It is such a waste of talent.
I saw their previous production, Mrs Green, in 2015 and that was infinitely better.
The Leftovers is at Curve until Saturday 28th October www.curveonline.co.uk

First published on Western Gazette

25/10/2017

Burning Books


Review by: Paul Towers, 25 October 2017
Burning Books by Jess Green
Directed by Julia Thomas
Curve 25 – 28 October 2017

“a savage indictment of the failure of our children by the current education system”

Sometimes the promotional material for a play does not do the production full justice. Such is the case with Jess Green’s Burning Books. On a fact sheet handed to all the audience members as they trouped into Curve’s pop-up performance space, RR2, there was loads of  background blurb about how the piece has morphed from some poetry into a music show and thence into a stage show. She garnered lots of response from the public after her poetry readings and those stories of people’s experiences within the education system have given birth to this show. It all seemed very worthy, dry and unexciting to my eyes.
Then the lights went down, the soundtrack (composed by Tasha Leggatt) came up and we were treated to a peek into the lives of 3 disillusioned teachers, by turns funny and achingly frustrating. This is a tale of four members of  a failing school in special measures and how they are thwareted at every turn by Government cut-backs and pen pushing money men as they try to instil a tiny bit of  motivation into classes of couldn’t-care-less kids from a sink estate. How they manage to cope, just, with the stresses and strains of trying desperately to keep their heads above water is a lesson in survival within a lackadaisical education system.
While Jess Green’s script is sharp and spot on (so my teacher friends tell me) it is the acting that brings the story into sharp relief.
Kat (Rebecca Newman) is the new First Teach student who tries to team up with union stalwart Janine (Erin Geraghty) to fight the forced conversion to an Academy. Scott (Conor Deane) is the PE teacher, all track suits and misogyny, and is as much use as a chocolate teapot and Mrs Sizzly (Mary Jo Randel), the school librarian with aspirations above her abilities and is blindly in love with Head Master Dom (Jasper Cook), never seen but omnipresent via the tannoy system..
This is a savage indictment of the failure of our children by the current education system
Burning Books is at Curve until Saturday 28th October as part of the Inside Out Festival
First published on Western Gazette
http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

23/10/2017

Hedda Gabler


Review by: Paul Towers, 23 October 2017
Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen rewritten by Patrick Marber
A National Theatre production
Curve 23 – 28 October 2017

“is Hedda bad or bored?”

Originally written by Ibsen in 1890 this is basically a tragedy about a woman who has sold herself short in the marriage stakes. She thought herself to be on the shelf and grabbed the ring proffered by Tesman, an acedemic, on the understanding that his current penury would be alleviated upon his elevation to professorship. Closeted in a large barren apartment that they can’t afford to furnish (but somehow do manage to employ a maid) upon their return from honeymoon the cracks in their marriage quickly materialise.
The big question for the audience is to wonder whether Hedda is bad or simply bored as she unravels before our eyes.
The beautifully stark white set is designed by Jan Versweyveld and dwarfs the actors highlighting the isolation and neurosis of Hedda. He also designed the lighting which is used to good effect to show the passing of time.
The story will particularly appeal to fans of Scandi-detective and Nordic Noir stories. Things move slowly but inexorably to a climax while lives intermingle and old loves are revealed.
Lizzy Watts as Hedda Gabler is a finely tuned portrait of suppressed emotions, social frustration and machiavellian string pulling. Tesman (Abhin Galeya), her husband, is permanently diverted by his academic aspirations. A fine supporting cast make good use of Curve’s very adaptable auditorium for entrances and exits through the audience thus signalling their arrivals and adding to the tension.
This is a National Theatre production so the acting is top notch and the production values are very high.
Patrick Marber has cleverly inserted little laughs in the story to alleviate the intense emotions and allow the audience the breathe. His adaptation has also updated the language to the modern idiom which makes the story very easy to follow.
Directed by Ivo van Howe there are plenty of Pinter-esqe silences as we are invited to follow the thought processes of the characters.
Sound designer Tom Gibbons has created a very subtle soundtrack with some surprising vocals.
Hedda Gabler is at Curve until 28 October. Full details at www.curveonline.co..uk
First published on Western Gazette



















21/10/2017

The Bedtime Project


Review by: Paul Towers, 21 October 2017
The Bedtime Project by Lamphouse Theatre
Upstairs @ The Western, 21 October 2017

“hilariously bonkers.”

Sometimes a show is so hilariously bonkers it is difficult to know how to describe it.
Bedtime Projects is described thus by themselves: “Improvised bedtime stories for adults - Join our raucous, musical, storytelling duo in the land of nod, for an evening of ridiculous bedtime stories inspired by your ideas and suggestions (yes, it’s an audience participation show!). Grab a tipple and come have some fun. Prepare yourself for an evening of hilarious improvised entertainment before lights out. Good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the bed bugs bite!”
But let’s be honest, this doesn’t go anywhere near describing what Bedtime Projects is. Calling it improvised fairy tales for adults sort of gives you a flavour for it but that doesn’t encompass the lunacy that ensues when we, the audience, steer them towards the tale of how Sydney the Magic Unicorn saved Poundland. I know, surreal beyond words. Intermingled with that well known fairy tale are various digressions that have absolutely nothing to do with anything but are hilarious anyway.
With improvised songs, looped electronic sound effects and very few props this talented two-some kept us in fits for 90 minutes in Upstairs at The Western’s intimate space.
“Lamphouse Theatre is a vibrant fringe theatre company based in Peterborough. Their previous work has toured to Theatre 503 in London, to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and regular tours around the East of England.”
The company’s touring production of Peter Pan will be back at Upstairs on 10 December 2017 for shows at 1pm and 4pm. Suitable for ages 6+. More details can be found at www.lamphousetheatre.co.uk
http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
First published on Western Gazette and Pub Theatre Blog

19/10/2017

Oklahoma


Review by: Paul Towers, 18 October 2017
Oklahoma by Rogers and Hammerstein
A Curve Young Company production directed by Sarah Ingram
Curve 18-19 October 2017

“an enjoyable romp.”

It is rant time. Again!
At Curve, before every performance there are multiple announcements that all mobile devices MUST be turned off. Even once you get into the auditorium there are further announcements stating that no pictures or audio recordings are allowed and all mobiles must be turned off. So, nearing the end  of the second half of Oklahoma tonight there is a ringing of a phone behind me. It went on for several minutes and then I heard a voice say ‘I am still in here’. I turned round to see the very rude and inconsiderate late teen/early 20’s female (definitely NOT a lady) having a conversation on the phone. I was in row I and she was in row K, probably seat 3 or 4. While the excellent Curve usher was at her side within seconds admonishing her I was astounded at the selfish, inconsiderate behaviour. I just wish that Curve could take a strong line with such behaviour and ban them from the theatre for, say, 6 months!
So, back to the show.
Once again Curve Young Company (Musicals) have done themselves proud with a production of  Oklahoma, the first musical written by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II and originally performed on Broadway in 1943. Since then it has been revived again and again. Oklahoma was one of the first musicals to integrate the songs with the humour and storyline thus giving it a dramatic impetus which allows for musical motifs to recur throughout the production.
Ostensibly a feel good show about ordinary cow folks in America’s mid west it features Curly McLain (a mature confident voice from Matthew Deans) who is pursuing contrary Laurey Williams (Rose Caldwell) who is not sure if she is ready for a relationship, let alone with smart mouthed Curley. Meanwhile very disturbed farmhand Jud Fry (a magnificent performance from Kade Smith) obsesses about Laurey while Ado Annie Carnes (a fine comic performance from Rebecca Willis) is causing problems by dating both Will Parker (Luke Beaumont) and Ali Hakem (although scripted as a Persian is played as Jewish to fine comic effect by Brendon Fletcher).The rest of the large cast never put a foot wrong, sing with gusto and dance up a storm with nary a hoe-down in sight. The tricky dream sequence (for those familiar with the film) is handled imaginatively and very effectively
For a musical Oklahoma has some very dark moments with suicide grooming, potential rape and knife crime all adding modern day resonances to the drama.
While the live band was sometimes a little overpowering and the authentic sounding American accents sometimes a little too good for English ears, the whole was an enjoyable romp.
The set design by Al Parkinson was clever with an imaginative use of back projection to indicate night and day, wheat fields and storms.
Oklahoma is on at Curve for two more performances on Thursday on 19th October. Grab a ticket if you can.
First pubished on Western Gazette

17/10/2017

Blood Brothers

Review by: Paul Towers, 16 October 2017
Blood Brothers by Willy Russell
A Bill Kenwright production in association with Bob Swash
DeMontfort Hall 16 – 21 October 2017

“well deserved the standing ovation”

When I was told I was reviewing Blood Brothers at DeMontfort Hall I thought all my Christmases had come early. Willy Russell’s musical about twin boys separated at birth only to be reunited in death is my all time favourite show.
Unusually for a story this tale starts at the end, the brothers dead on the ground. Guided by the Narrator (Dean Chisnall) we are taken back to before they were born and Mrs Johnstone’s  habit of popping babies out at a  rate of knots provides her with her first set of twins to add to the brood she was struggling to bring up in a two up, two down terrace in Liverpool.
The mainstay of this show is whoever is playing Mrs Johnstone, the twins’ mother. Advertised was Lyn Paul, formerly of the group The New Seekers. Unfortunately she was indisposed and we had her understudy, Sarah Jane Buckley. Wow, what a voice! She steered the show right from the beginning and never put a foot wrong and well deserved the standing ovation she shared with the entire cast at the end.
The set is a very unspectacular street with two rows of down at heel terraced houses and a gantry across the back.
The talented cast backing up Buckley and Chisnall included Sean Jones and Mark Hutchinson as the twins and Danielle Corlass as Linda.
Blood Brothers is at DeMontfort Hall until Saturday 21st October. Grab a ticket if you possibly can

First published on Western Gazette

12/10/2017

Voices of Reason


 Review by: Paul Towers, 12 October 2017
Voices of Reason by Barnaby Nyombi
Directed by Barnaby Nyombi with Olivia Sikora, Rachel Johnson, Barnaby Nyombi, Alex Kynaston and Madeline Nyombi
Upstairs @ The Western, 12 October 2017

“a passionate and contemporary play.”

First off I have to say well done to this troupe for pulling together this show from first rehearsal to stage premier in a little over 2 weeks after the previously booked production pulled out 3 weeks ago.
Quoting from the programme notes “Voices of Reason is a passionate and contemporary play aiming to challenge common misconceptions and assumptions about immigration.” All very admirable but I do feel the author has taken aim at too many subjects. The segment of an elderly couple railing against ‘those immigrants’ while admitting we can’t do without them rings very true for some people.
The central lesbian love story where two people in a  relationship have different external ambitions again rings very true. As does the spoof UKIP party suddenly gaining its objectives. However, when the finale swings into action and we are taken into a dystopian world of Nazi-like oppression and underground Terminator-like resistance, it all becomes a bit over the top and unbelievable.
The cast of just five work very hard and are mostly very competent actors. The one character which was completely out of place was Esther played as a bearded lady by Alex Kynaston. What the hell was that all about?
I don’t want to be too hard on a young experimental group but I do feel the script could be tightened up and several ‘targets’ should be passed over.
Find out more about this company, Immerse16, on Facebook (immerse16), Instagram (immerse16) or Twitter(16immerse)

 Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
Firs published on Western Gazette
and Pub Theatres Blog

10/10/2017

Debris


Review by: Paul Towers, 10 October 2017
Debris by Louise White
Upstairs @ The Western, 10 October 2017

“bravura  performance

Can depression be anything but heartbreaking? Yes, when it is in the hands of Louise White. In a gentle, sometimes amusing and always insightful narrative this is the story of a mental collapse and a subsequent …. recovery?
Louise’s breakdown was triggered by her controlling and emotionally bullying ex-boyfriend. What followed was a slow but steady climb back up the ladder from her depression to a point where she is now able to sustain a relationship and manage her occasional health dips. In this performance we get an insight into her thoughts, delusions and coping mechanisms.
The stage is cluttered with boxes marked for their contents; dreams, depression, Falmouth etc. all contributions to her mental health, either positive or negative. When the ‘black dog’ of depression does descend it is represented by a large bundle of black balloons tied to her; a floating, tethered cloud of blackness.
This bravura  performance was all the more so as it is obviously very autobiographical and soul bearing.
Details of further performances and other work of Louise White can be found on www.louisewhitetheatrician.com

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

07/10/2017

Jestin Oct 2017


Review by: Paul Towers, 07 October 2017
Jestin’ at The Western
Upstairs Comedy presents Dan Nicholas with Sarah Johnson, Graham Mountain, Jack Campbell, John Poster, Ian West and The Monks
Upstairs @ The Western, 7 \October 2017

“Jestin’ at The Western October 2017”

For the next couple of months Upstairs at The Western is hosting its very own comedy club, Jestin’ at The Western. Hosted by local comedy hero Dan Nicholas this features several comics who are either complete newbies or established acts trying out new material.
This month we had a packed line-up of 4 acts plus two headliners.
Sarah Johnson is a local (Swadlincote) comedian who entertained us with tales of her recent trip to Ibiza with a 50th birthday party of girl friends and her complete inability to embrace modern technology.
Graham Mountain is deaf  but has a very nice way with words, a great turn of phrase and a nice line in satisfying stories while being amusingly self deprecating about his disability.
The headline act for the first half was Jack Cambell, a regular at venues around Leicester and nationwide. Having studied at DeMontfort University Campbell has adopted Leicester as his home city and works regularly with Dan Nicholas, our host.
After a much needed ‘comfort break’ we were back in the fray with Jack Poster, a cerebral palsy comedian very much in the vein of BGT finalist Jack Carroll. He has the same self deprecating gallows humour about his disability with a nice line in complaints about the benefits system.
Next came Ian West. If I am honest his brand  of painful surrealism passed me by and the audience mostly found his scruffy persona too weird.
Our final act was The Monks, a Christian sketch show duo who were not afraid to mock religion in general and IS in particular. Their sketch about PC dating was scarily accurate.
Dan Nicholas will be hosting a night of dance comedy at The Attenborough Arts Centre on Sunday 29th October. Details at www.danielnicholas.co.uk
Sarah Johnson’s forthcoming gigs can be found at www.sarahljohnson.co.uk
Jack Campbell’s gigs can be found at www.jackcampbellcomedian.weebly.com
The Monks’ details are at www.fourmonksandanun.com
The next Jestin’ at The Western is on Saturday 4th November.
 Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/

First published in Western Gazette
and Pub Theatres  

04/10/2017

Upstairs Word - Jasmine Gardosi & Hannah Swings



Review by: Paul Towers, 04 October 2017
Upstairs Word presents Jasmine Gardosi & Hannah Swings
Upstairs @ The Western, 4 October 2017

“Upstairs at The Western continues its love affair with the spoken word.”

Upstairs at The Western continues its love affair with the spoken word with a monthly night of poets and performance artistes.
Tonight we saw Hannah Swings supporting headliner Jasmine Gardosi.
Hannah’s poetry is largely autobiographical but slightly enhanced for effect (so she says!). By day she is a teacher trying desperately to infuse enthusiasm for history in fifth and sixth formers in Birmingham but by night she performs poems on such diverse subjects as ladybirds, her Mother’s obsession with recording the minutiae of her life to colour psychology. This amusing Brummie is a an alumna of Jasmine with a completely original outlook on life.
Jasmine Gardosi is an award winning performer and tonight presented her very first scratch show. This simply meant it was still a work in progress.
Performed under the guise of a teacher suddenly being thrust into a class to fill in and take a sex education lesson, this combined humour and education to challenge our perceptions of sex and sexuality. While most of it was informative I did find it drifted a bit far into sexual politics for my taste. But then, maybe we should be confronted with uncomfortable subjects.
I have to admit I learnt quite a few things that I have never had to think about before. Given my lifestyle choices I am glad I will never have to consider a lot of them. I realise now how easy and uncomplicated my life is.

Upstairs Word is back on Wednesday 1st November with Toria Garbutt & Shruti Chauhan while Find The Right Words hosted by Jess Green is back on Weds 18th October

First published at Western Gazette  

03/10/2017

The Railway Children


Review by: Paul Towers, 03 October 2017
The Railway Children by E Nesbit, adapted by Dave Simpson
A Nick Brooke Ltd presentation of an Exeter Northcott Theatre production
Curve 3 – 8th October 2017

“a story for all the family, especially children.”

E Nesbit’s classic tale is of Edwardian rural life set around a railway station in deepest darkest Yorkshire. A family of Mother and three children are forced to move there in virtual penury after her husband is unjustly imprisoned for spying. Nesbit tackles several topics in the narrative including a miscarriage of justice, the culture clash between town and country and the missing sense of community.
The recent highly successful stage adaptations, also by Northcott Theatre, set in both York and Kings Cross stations have led to this touring production.
Director Paul Jepson, with help from video and set designer Tim Bird, has created a hugely inventive set that cleverly incorporates video backdrops with traditional stage props and railway miniatures to tell a story for all the family, especially children. Hence the additional 5pm Sunday show at the end of the run at Curve.
In a departure from the film the railway porter, Perks, becomes the narrator and pushes the story along. He uses the signal levers to change the lights and scenery as we move from the station to the cottage to the track side.
A relatively small but talented cast of 13 populate this tale and fill the main stage at Curve.
E Nesbit’s world, like Enid Blyton’s, is a world where children have adventures, nearly come a cropper but it always comes out right in the end.

Full details of performances are at www.curveonline.co.uk

First published on Western Gazette