Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

22/12/2018

Peter Pan


Review by: Paul Towers, 22/12/18
JM Barrie’s Peter Pan  adapted by Will Brenton
An Imagine Theatre production
DeMontfort Hall 15 December to 6 January 2019

“hugely entertaining family fun”

After the runaway success of Imagine Theatre’s Beauty and The Beast last year at DeMontfort Hall they are back with Peter Pan.
This is a pantomime in the very best tradition; a hero, a villain, a dame and a comic.
Back by popular demand are Leicester’s very own Sam Bailey (Shoo) and Martin Ballard (Nanny McSmee). They are joined by Britain’s Got Talent contestant Kev Orkian as Smee, Cat Sandion (well known from Cbeebies) and Coronation Street’s Kevin Kennedy (Curly Watts for those with a long memory!) as Captain Hook at his moustache twirling best.
The juvenile leads are played by Andy Owens as Peter Pan, Kate Eaves as Wendy and Becky Burford as Tinkerbell.
I am sure we all know the story of Peter Pan, the boy who didn’t grow up and enticed Wendy Darling and her brothers to Never Never Land where they joined forces with The Lost Boys and defeated dastardly Captain Hook and his pirates.
All the elements of traditional panto are here in abundance; daring do, sword fights, loads of flying. Inbetween there is all the comedy we expect. The Dame, Martin Ballard, is a past master (mistress?) at getting the audience going in ever more outrageous frocks. Playing her son, Kev Orkian is an accomplished stand up comedian with acres of experience entertaining children of all ages with boundless energy and is a great comedy partner for Sam Bailey’s Shoo, the ship’s cook.
Lots of scene changes entail acres of backcloths and scenic elements, all of which are rolled on and off DeMontfort Hall’s ample stage into the cramped wings. On top of this there is the obligatory flying which Andy Owens has obviously mastered with lots of aerial gymnastics. And as with every great pantomime there are loads of songs, both current and old, shoe-horned in for all ages to join in with. S Club 7 and Steps are old favourites but this year’s go-to show is The Greatest Showman.
This is hugely entertaining family fun as shown by the fact that the youngest audience members were still in nappies, as were some of the oldest!
Peter Pan runs at DeMontfort Hall until 6 January. Best ticket availability are after Christmas
First published on Western Gazette







18/12/2018

Treasure Island


Review by: Paul Towers, 18/12/18
Treasure Island adapted by Sandi Toksvig
Lyrics by Jenifer Toksvig, Composer David Perkins, directed by Matthew Forbes
Leicester Haymarket Theatre 13 December to 6 January 2019

“liberally littered with puns and groan-worthy jokes”

Robert Louis Stevenson’s book of Treasure Island has been done to death and is a staple of both professional and amateur companies up and down the country at this time of year. So it was with some trepidation that I ventured out on a cold, wet and windy December evening to see Haymarket Theatre’s first in-house production since its refurb.
Sandi Toksvig has taken liberal inspiration from The Play That Goes Wrong and set this version in the final dress rehearsal of a cash strapped production in an unspecified regional theatre. This is a genius way of staging a swashbuckling yarn of pirates, high seas and tropical islands with very little scenery or costumes. It also allows for lots of sly digs at less than professional productions. There are loads of local references, not only to Leicester but also to the fact that the Haymarket was dark for 10+ years.
The script bounces deliciously between the main story and the back stage tribulations and deficiencies with the wit that you would expect from Ms Toksvig. Liberally littered with puns and groan-worthy jokes there is plenty for both adults and children to laugh at.
The main cast of 10 adults is supplemented by local children working in three teams on different nights.
I would love to give credit to the various performers in their roles but there is no hint in the programme of who plays what. What I can say for sure is that the two puppets representing the parrot and Ben Gunn were great fun and Gary Lineker’s cameo on video elicited a knowing nod to Leicester.
This is an ideal show for all ages with original songs, dance routines and  lots of laughs. Ideal festive fun for everyone.
Treasure Island is on at Haymarket Theatre until 6 January 2019

https://www.haytheatre.com/
First published on Western Gazette


14/12/2018

White Christmas


Review by: Paul Towers, 14/12/18
White Christmas By Irving Berlin (lyrics & music)  and David Ives & Paul Blake  (book)
Made at Curve, directed by Nikolai Foster, choreographed by Stephen Mears
Curve 6 December to 13 January 2019

“a sure fire festive winner.”

There was a full house for tonight’s Press Night of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas on a suitably frosty Friday. Like Gershwin’s Crazy For You earlier this year an Irving Berlin score is very distinctive and a guaranteed toe tapper, especially in the expert hands of Curve’s Nikolai Foster. Combine that with the set design skills of Michael Taylor and Stephen Mears’ distinctive choreography and Curve has a sure fire festive winner.
White Christmas is the 1950’s version of a jukebox musical, a series of songs (usually by a single songwriter) gathered together with a tenuous story. Except in the old movies there was a little more attention given to the story.
White Christmas is the story of a couple of ex soldiers who form a double act singing and dancing after the war. They are at a club one night and spot a singing sister act, The Sisters. Bob Wallace (Danny Mac, who still can’t keep his clothes on!) is immediately smitten with Betty Haynes (Emma Williams) while Phil Davis (Dan Burton) falls for Judy Haynes (Monique Young). In true musical fashion the path of true love doesn’t run smooth. They end up in a remote ski resort (unusually devoid of snow this particular year) and decide to put on a show to try and attract punters to the resort. Of course, in the end, it all works out and the boys pair up with the girls and live happily ever after as the snow finally falls over the mountainside and the entire cast sing White Christmas.
This is a hugely festive, feel-good show with an eye catching number of costumes and a huge set that slides in and out, up and down making full use of Curve’s extensive capabilities. The cast of  27 plus 13 Curve Young Company performers fill the stage with typically extravagant dance routines which are obviously influenced by Bob Fosse, Gower Champion, Busby Berkley and other great Broadway choreographers.
Some of the best lines belong to Wendy Mae Brown as Martha Watson who plays the concierge of the ski lodge. She also has a belter of a singing voice.
Judging by tonight’s full house there will be very few tickets before Christmas. Try for the New Year.
Full details available at www.curveonline.co.uk

First published on Western Gazette










The Cat in the Hat


Review by: Paul Towers, 14 December 2018
The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss, adapted by Katie Mitchell
A Curve & Rose Theatre, Kingston co-production
Curve 8 December 2018 – 12 January 2019 and then touring

“The Cat in the Hat IS all that!”

Dr Seuss is America’s answer to Roald Dahl, writing anarchic, funny books for young readers. In Dr Seuss’ case he aims to encourage pre-schoolchildren to read by using big bright pictures and simple verses and prose.
This musical play, originally produced by The National Theatre, is a lively mix of songs, dances and magic tricks all told in a fun, simplistic way to appeal to all ages from 2 years upwards. Starting with Sam Angell as Boy bouncing on stage and exhorting the audience to join in and sing along with him, this afternoon’s pretty full house of mainly pre-schoolers was immediately playing along. And then when Mellissa Lowe as his sister Sally joined him and they had a water fight with SuperSoakers over our heads, the squeals of delight and excitement reached fever pitch.
The story, such as it is, involves Sally and her brother being bored on a rainy afternoon. Conjuring up the legendary Cat in the Hat (Nana Amoo-Gottfired) mayhem ensues as he introduces Thing 1 and Thing 2 (Celia Francis and Robert Penny) into the mix. All three of them display great circus skills, not surprising as the show is created in conjunction with The National Centre for Circus Acts. While the two Things bounce around, up and over the set like hyperactive acrobats, The Cat is the magical ringmaster of the chaos.
The music of Tasha Taylor Johnson was, at times, a little loud but all the actors were amplified so nothing was missed. Charley Magalit as Fish had the most beautiful singing voice, especially as half the time she was encased in a Zorb ball rolling around the stage. The set by Isla Shaw was designed to look like a line drawing waiting to be coloured in and had several surprises built into it.
This is a short show, two 30 minute halves with a 20 minute interval, so is ideal for youngsters with short attention spans. Several of the children today were obviously on the spectrum and were wearing muffling headphones but this didn’t seem to detract from their enjoyment of the performance.
With three shows a day on most show days this is a short, snappy festive treat for even the youngest fans. There are especially relaxed performances on Saturday 22nd December and Sunday 6 January
All in all The Cat in the Hat IS all that!

www.curveonline.co.uk






06/12/2018

Now.Here. This.


Review by: Paul Towers, 06 December 2018
Now. Here. This - Book by Hunter Bell and Susan Blackwell, and Music and Lyrics by Jeff Bowen
Four Wheeled Theatre production
Upstairs @ The Western, 5th December to 22nd December


“alternately comic and sad”

Last week I dropped into the dress rehearsal of  Now. Here. This and was impressed. Tonight I saw the first public performance in the theatre. Yesterday afternoon there had been an accessible performance downstairs in the back bar but this was the first in the theatre.
Now. Here. This. is the tale of four friends from the four corners of America who meet up in a Natural History Museum and reminisce about their childhoods and lives. Taken in parallel with the story of evolution their various journeys to adulthood prove to be just as eventful as any species leaving the prehistoric swamps to crawl and fly.
This show is primarily a musical with narrative inbetween. Alternately comic and sad their various lives lead them, eventually, to a commonly bonded friendship circle of support and love.
Sam Hannah, Simon Butler-Little, Kathryn Lenthall and Charlotte-Emily Bond play many parts and sing up a storm with often just a scarf or a coat to change character.
This play is especially appropriate for Upstairs at The Western’s intimate performance space as you feel very close to the story.
If you are looking for be entertained without all the tinsel and baubles then this is a perfect evening for you.
Performances are scheduled in the upstairs theatre on the following dates:  7th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 20th, 21st and 22nd at 7.30pm. Additionally there will be a promenade performances in the downstairs bar especially for those with mobility issues who can’t manage the stairs on 12th December at 2pm. There will also be relaxed performances upstairs in the theatre on 15th and 22nd at 2pm. Full details on the website.

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

29/11/2018

Four Wheeled Theatre - Now. Here. This.


Show Profile by: Paul Towers, 29 November 2018
Now. Here. This - Book by Hunter Bell and Susan Blackwell, and Music and Lyrics by Jeff Bowen
Four Wheeled Theatre prodcution
Upstairs @ The Western, 5th December to 22nd December

“Now. Here. This. - a taste of what is to come.”

Upstairs at The Western has taken a huge gamble on staging a single show over the festive period. Now. Here. This. is a musical from 2012 written very much under the influence of Stephen Sondheim for a tight cast of four.
This is not a review of the show (that will follow next week) but rather a taste of what is to come.
The show is wholly new with original music and lyrics, many of them very witty.
The cast comprise Sam Hannah, Simon Butler-Little, Kathryn Lenthall and Charlotte-Emily Bond. The boys have worked with Four Wheel Theatre before but the girls are new to the company.
With a live keyboard accompanied by a backing track this story is based around four friends at a natural history museum in America.
Innovatively the performances are scheduled in the upstairs theatre on the following dates: 6th, 7th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 20th, 21st and 22nd at 7.30pm. Additionally there will be promenade performances in the downstairs bar especially for those with mobility issues who can’t manage the stairs on 5th and 12th at 2pm. There will also be relaxed performances upstairs in the theatre on 15th and 22nd at 2pm. This all chimes very well with the management’s vow to make theatre at Upstairs much more accessible.

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

24/11/2018

Kinky Boots


Review by: Paul Towers, 21/11/18
Kinky Boots – Harvey Feirstein & Cyndi Lauper
A Cameron Mackintosh presentation
Adelphi Theatre until 12 January 2019

“funny, musical and energetic.”

The 2005 film introduced us to Lola and how she saved Price’s shoes, the struggling Northampton footwear factory. In my opinion the film was quite bland and fell very short of the story’s potential for fun. The musical rectifies this in spades.
Harvey Fierstein (he of Torch Song Trilogy and Hairspray fame) provides a script that fizzes with fun and pathos, especially when addressing contentious issues and bigotry.
Cyndi Lauper’s soundtrack is punchy pop interwoven with ballads.
Graham Kent as Charlie Price, unwilling inheritor of the ailing shoe factory, is suitably square and rather hog tied by his girlfriend, Nicola (Cordelia Farnworth) who wants to see to a property developer and move to the bright lights of London. Enter the extraordinary Lola (Simon-Anthony Rohden), local drag queen and cabaret artiste in need of stilettoes that last more than one night. It’s a match made in heaven. Eventually.
Helped by Lola’s Angels (drag queens from her show) the factory is saved and the orders come flooding in.
By adding musical numbers and exploring Lola’s cabaret act this show becomes a dazzlingly funny, musical and energetic experience.
Kinky Boots closes at The Adelphi on January 12th but has been touring nationwide since September and continues until at least July 2019

http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

20/11/2018

Spamalot


Review by: Paul Towers, 20 November 2018
Spamalot – book and lyrics by Eric Idle, music by John De Prez and Eric Idle
A Knighton Park Amateur Operatic Society presentation
Little Theatre 20 – 24th November 2018

“this is a very funny show"

I guess you have to be into Monty Python to fully appreciate Spamalot. And I am. It was my era.
‘Lovingly ripped off’ from Monty Python and The Holy Grail Spamalot is a musical adventure that includes loads of Python references, lots of theatrical spoofs and a plethora of sight and music gags.
Right from the moment the music starts and before the curtain has even lifted there are giggles and guffaws to be had. Absolutely nothing is taken seriously from thereon in.
The entire production is full of Python silliness. Even the dead parrot gets a couple of appearances. There are many little  sight gags which mean a  whole lot to devotees but slightly less to novice Python aficionados. Nevertheless each and every one raises a laugh.
Many of the costumes are intentional jokes in themselves. There is even a guest appearance of Eric Idle as God (on film, obviously)
The stand out performance of the night was Shelley Henry. I remember seeing her in Sister Act at Curve about 4 years ago when she absolutely stole the show. Here she is wonderfully cast as The Lady In The Lake and is given full reign to showcase her amazing vocal skills.
Another great part was Martin Bell’s Patsy, sidekick to King Arthur. Very much like Igor, downtrodden, subversive and getting loads of great comic lines.
A huge cast of 34 easily fill the stage of the Little Theatre and provide a professional standard show.
My sole gripe is that whereas you expect one or two audience members with weak bladders to interrupt the show you don’t expect it from a member of the production crew. The guy sat in front of me was up and down like a yoyo. If he felt the need to tweek the lights or sound then he should have reserved a back row seat so he didn’t disturb other audience members.
That said, this is a very funny, feel good show getting a well deserved standing ovation on the encore of Always Look On The Bright Side of Life, which the audience sang along to.
Spamalot is at The Little Theatre until Saturday 24tth November.

http://www.thelittletheatre.net/
First published on Western Gazette

16/11/2018

Bleach


Review by: Paul Towers, 16 November 2018
Bleach by Dan Ireland-Reeves
Upstairs @ The Western, 16 November 2018

“the hostile world of male sex workers in London.”

Upstairs at The Western continues to schedule works that challenge and engage audiences.
Bleach is the latest work from multi award winning writer/actor Dan Ireland-Reeves.
Written and performed by the author this is an ultimately horrific tale of a young man caught up in the dark and hostile world of male sex workers in London.
Tyler Everett thinks that by escaping from the boring banality of his mother’s flat in the Midlands he can find fulfilment and a lavish lifestyle in London. Drawn into a world of drugs and increasingly dangerous paid sexual encounters, Tyler’s life spirals downward out of control.
The set is a large white plastic sheet littered with the accoutrements of the sex worker which Tyler packs into his backpack every day as he sets out to earn his money. To keep the boredom and tedium of his job at bay he resorts to Viagra and Cocaine increasingly. As his drug use escalates he finds it hard to distinguish between what has really happened and what is fantasy.
Dan Ireland-Reeves is an engaging writer and actor who draws us into the murky underbelly of London’s sordid nightlife in what should be a cautionary tale for anyone thinking that the streets of London are paved with gold.
More details of this and Dan’s other work can be found at www.danirelandreeves.co.uk/

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/





15/11/2018

What would Sharron Davies do?


Review by: Paul Towers, 15 November 2018
What would Sharron Davies do? By Lesley Emery
Upstairs @ The Western, 15 November 2018

“a bitter sweet snapshot”

Lesley Emery is a firm favourite with Upstairs at The Western and returns again and again with her one-woman shows, consistently selling out full houses.
This time she introduced us to Janis Barlow (yes, IS because “if Sharron Davies can do two R’s then I can change ICE to IS”). Janis is a northern hairdresser married to Dave. Well, to be honest, merely tolerating him. She has had a disappointing life with failed marriages and a lack of children. But the one thing that has carried her through is her love for Sharron Davies, Olympic swimmer and TV pundit.
We join Janis in her sitting room ironing. She breaks off and chats to us. She is menopausal and is looking for a hobby and a new direction in life now that the IVF hasn’t worked. Her childhood idol, Sharron Davies’ picture hangs on the wall, an inspiration when things get tough. What would Sharron Davies do? Synchronised swimming, that’s what!
Much like a female Alan Bennett, Emery taps into the comedy of everyday words and everyday people. The minutiae of  the working wife as she struggles to cope with a changing life is played out on her settee. With current references slotted in to keep it relevant, Emery entertains us with a bitter sweet snapshot of Janis’ life as she makes a valiant effort to be pool-ready for a career as an older synchronised swimmer.
For further information about Lesley Emery and her work go to www.lesleyemery.com/

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

14/11/2018

Les Miserables International Tour


Review by: Paul Towers, 14 November 2018
Les Miserables based on the Victor Hugo novel. Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, Lyrics by Herbert  Kretzmer. Additional material by James Fenton and adapted by Trevor Nunn and John Caird
A Cameron Mackintosh production
Curve – 3rd November to 24th November

“spectacularly emotional”

Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables was set around the 1830 revolution which saw the poor rise up against King Charles X and his obvious bias towards the rich. Hugo’s first novel, Notre Dame de Paris featuring the hunch back Quasimodo, was a success and in 1845 he started to write Les Miserables.
Set against the background of the uprising it is a story of the struggle between Jean Valjean and Javert and the love story of Cossette and Marius.
As the curtain rises Valjean is seen coming to the end of a 19 year sentence on the chain gang but struggles to make a living given his background. Javert vows to hunt him down as so begins a lifelong feud.
As much of the story revolves around the enmity of Valjean and Javert it is essential that the parts are cast well. In Killian Donnelly and Nic Greenshield the producers have found the perfect pairing. The other superb casting is Katie Hall’s Fantine who broke the hearts of the entire audience when she expired.
Light relief is provided by Martin Ball and Sophie-Louise Dann as the disreputable inn keeper and his wife, the Thenardiers. Their rendition of Master Of The House is a Hogarth painting come to life.
The set, designed by Matt Kinley, is an incredible piece of planning; a jig saw of many pieces that fly in, turn round and drop down to form the various parts of Paris. Two three story towers frame the side of the stage and surprised us all by  sliding in and forming a complete street.
Add to this the incredible back projections which not only provide scenic references but are often animated making an escape through the sewers of the city incredibly realistic. The sound and light designed by Mick Potter and Paule Constable add to the atmosphere and are especially effective in the second act depiction of the barricade massacre.
This is a spectacularly emotional musical which is celebrating its 33rd year with an international tour.
The remaining dates at Curve are sold out and your only chance of a ticket is to call the box office in the hope that someone has fallen ill. Next stop Dublin, if you fancy your chances. But, given that Curve sold out within hours of tickets being released, it is unlikely you will be lucky.
First published on Western Gazette






08/11/2018

Dream On


Review by: Paul Towers, 08 November 2018
Dream On by Kirsty Munro
Upstairs @ The Western, 8 November 2018

“bonkers show.”

Thursday comedy at Upstairs at The Western this week featured Edinburgh Fringe veteran Kirsty Munro
This is the (true) story of a bipolar comedian who doesn’t appear to take her medication and has a meltdown during her Edinburgh run.  This is a cabaret show revealing and revelling in the mishaps of a misshapen mind. Embarrassing disasters, losing touch with reality and what not to do when the love of your life just doesn’t fancy you. How to serenade yourself into bed, confessional stories of pulling all nighters and things that go bonk in the night. In this show dreams will come true. Along the way we get Kirsty’s Dirty Dancing with a sex doll, the frustration of a terminal singleton and a chunk of gratuitous nudity. With lots of audience interaction this bonkers show careers to a (fairly) satisfactory finale at a wedding.
Follow Kirsty’s dreams on Twitter @MunroKirsty

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

25/10/2018

Fly Half


Review by: Paul Towers, 25 October 2018
Fly Half by Gary Lagden, music by Gareth Moulton
Upstairs @ The Western, 25th & 26th October 2018

“a classy, emotional story of the allure of rugby.”

I have to admit that I am a sucker for a Welsh accent and Gary Lagden’s lyrical, almost musical use of  the English language is sublime. Add to this Gareth Moulton’s virtuoso guitar playing, atmospheric electric and folksy acoustic soundtrack and this play is almost like an opera.
Fly Half is, as expected, a hymn to the almost religious fervour that the game of rugby engenders in many men, especially in the working class regions of Wales.
As a young boy Darren was anxious to join his father on the terraces of his local club and fulfil his promise of becoming a fly half.
Through the deprivation that hit the town over the years rugby was the one constant, the thing that held the community together. Darren grew up and, sure enough, followed his father onto the team. Along the way he locked horns on many an occasion with the angry team bully, Barry Highland. It was the calming influence of his wife, Sian, that kept him on an even keel. Eventually there was a son, John, a boy to pass his passion for rugby on to. But, in Darren’s eyes, John betrayed his rugby roots by being swayed by the corporate hold on the game. But he was still his son.
The passion and disappointment come to the fore as Darren raged about the inequity of  the modern game.
Gary Lagden as Darren has written himself a great part full of  humour, emotion and an obvious love for the game.
Gareth Moulton, sat at the side of the stage with just a couple of guitars, provides a beautiful background soundtrack until he switches to an acoustic instrument to sing original folksy songs as scene changes.
This is a classy, emotional story of the allure of rugby
Fly Half is at Upstairs at The Western again on Friday 26th October. Further performances and full details can be found on https://tinyurl.com/yd97afmf

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

18/10/2018

The Frontline


Review by: Paul Towers, 18 October 2018
The Frontline by Che Walker
Made at Curve for Inside Out Festival
Curve 17 – 20 October

“a great showcase”

Curve’s latest innovative programme for up and coming theatre talent, New Theatre Talent, is supported by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation. This is a 12 month course for young actors who want to work in a professional environment and gain the experience that that will give them. Over the past year they have learnt skills which will stand them in good stead as they go forward to become professional actors.
The culmination of all that work is this showcase performance of The Frontline over 4 days in Curve’s Studio space.
A very talented cast of 16 actors tell 12 stories of inner city angst that happen one eventful Saturday night.
There is a clever set of neon doorways designed by Kevin Jenkins which light up in various colours as they are used. I think that better use of stage lighting would have made the various stories more significant and easier to follow. Throughout the production there are several set pieces where the narrative is expanded and explained. Unfortunately there are also several places where shouted cross talk, trying to convey chaos,  means that nothing can be followed. It is just noise.
The text seems to have an identity crisis at times and can’t decide whether to be street talk or a lecture, often from the same character in the same speech.
While every member of the cast performed well certain characters were given parts which allowed them to shine more than others. Simon Butler as Mordechai Thurrock, the desperate actor, had a dream part giving comic lightness amidst the dark drama. Med Janneh and Ngozi Ogon as two warring drug dealers enabled Ms Ogon to beautifully channel Kevin & Perry to great comic affect. Ngozi Ogona also played Beth, although needing to project a little more, she sashayed splendidly across the stage as the  wannabe stripper Baby Doll, while Lydia Unsudimi played Beth the born again Christian.
Overall this production gave the alumni of Curve’s inaugural New Theatre Talent programme a great showcase allowing them to build characters and present them to an appreciative paying public.
The Frontline is at Curve until Saturday 20 October.

http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/