Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen


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.


Coming up this winter in Leicester

If you are looking for entertainment as we plunge head long into winter, here in Leicester you are spoiled for choice.
DeMontfort Hall has their annual pantomime starring local heroes Sam Bailey and Martin Ballard in Peter Pan. Also starring Corrie’s Kevin Kennedy, the all flying family extravaganza runs from 15 December right through to 2 January
Over at Leicester Haymarket their Christmas show is a reworking of the old classic, Treasure Island. Written by Bake Off presenter Sandi Toksvig , this is family entertainment with puppets and live action. It runs from 13 December to 6 January
The Little Theatre continues its Christmas tradition with Mother Goose as its annual pantomime. Devised and directed by resident know-it-all John Bale this is sure to be as popular with youngsters and the not so young as it is every year. It runs from 14 December to 6 January.
Curve traditionally avoids pantomime and presents festive offering for adults and children. This year’s grown up musical is the evergreen White Christmas starring Danny Mac fresh from his triumph in Sunset Boulevard last year. Joining him in this Irving Berlin classic will be Emma Williams, Dan Burton and Monique Young. It runs from 6 December to 13 January so there is no excuse to miss out. For the youngsters there is a departure form the annual Roald Dahl fun with a new production on Dr Seuss’ The Cat In The Hat directed by Curve’s Suba Das. The Cat is in Leicester from 8 December to 12 January, the ideal way to occupy your little monsters over the holidays.
Curve has an exciting year coming up in 2019 with brand new productions and classic revivals so watch out for announcements soon.


Calendar Girls - The Musical

Review by: Paul Towers, 16 October 2018
Calendar Girls – The Musical by Gary Barlow & Tim Firth
Produced by David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers and The Schubert Organisation
DeMontfort Hall 16 – 20 October 2018

“alternately hilarious and poignant in a single breath.”

Back in 2003 Tim Firth and Juliette Towhidi wrote a film about an enterprising Women’s Institute group in Yorkshire who decided to create a naked calendar to raise funds for a sofa to commemorate the husband of one of their number who had died of leukemia.
So successful were their efforts that it inspired a film which took off, touching hearts around the world. It was a story of how friends come  together in adversity, support each other and create something wonderful out of tragedy.
Childhood friends Tim Firth and Gary Barlow decided that the story and the film would make a good basis for a musical full of life affirming, empowering songs. And so Calendar Girls – The Musical was born and opened in Leeds in 2015. After a residency in London’s West End it has been recast and is out on tour.
Tim and Gary have fashioned a show that is alternately hilarious and poignant in a single breath. The laughs start from the moment the lights go up and continue in waves til the final curtain.
Barlow’s songs are a revelation. Dismissed by many as a fluffy pop song-smith his talents as a songwriter shine in this show as he both moves the story along and provides light relief in what could be, in all honesty, a depressing tale. While most of the songs wouldn’t stand alone as pop singles they are excellent at doing the job they are written for. Telling a story well and with humour.
The current cast is awash with familiar faces led by one Fern Britton with Ruth Madoc, Sara Crowe, Denise Welch and Ian Mercer to mention just the faces you will know from TV. While their familiarity helps sell tickets and certainly pleased the full audience tonight they are just the tip of the iceberg of talent in this production. There are lots of good comedy performances and several of the leading ladies get their own powerhouse songs to sing.
The set is very impressive and represents a Yorkshire hillside complete with grass and a farm gate. Clever lighting transforms the stage at various times and well balanced sound ensures we hear every word without being deafened.
Calendar Girls - The Musical is at DeMontfort Hall until Saturday 20th October. Limited seats are available at
Details of the continuing tour are at
First published on Western Gazette


Cilla the Musical

Review by: Paul Towers, 09 October 2018
Cilla the musical  by Jeff Pope
A Bill Kenwright production
Curve 9 – 13 October 2018

“Kara Lily Hayworth takes the stage by storm.”

When Priscilla Maria Veronica White, aka Cilla Black, died in Spain on 1 August 2015 many thought that that would be that. Her legacy would be 50 odd years of entertaining the great unwashed public, many hours of tapes and DVD’s of her TV work, 41 singles and 35 albums. But then her enterprising son, Robert Willis, thought that her life apart from the entertaining was interesting enough to warrant a biographical drama. And so it was that Sheridan Smith donned the trademark red hair to bring her heydays to a whole new audience in 2014.
From the success of that TV mini series a full blown musical theatre show was created by the same author, Jeff Pope. Sadly Cilla didn’t live to see the finished production but had given her blessing to a first draft.
The story of Cilla’s early life is fairly well known to those with an interest in the 60’s and 70’s music scene. Spotted by Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein in Liverpool’s Cavern Club the office girl Priscilla White was groomed for a singing career. Besotted Bobby Willis tagged along as her road manager watching as Epstein propelled her to mega stardom. With her sights firmly set on stardom Cilla, as she was now named, strung Bobby along until she suddenly realised she couldn’t manage without him and finally married him.
This perfectly illustrates how Pope and Robert Willis don’t gloss over some of the less palatable aspects of Black’s rise to prominence.
Like the TV series the story is of Cilla’s journey up to the moment that Brian Epstein dies in mysterious circumstances leaving a contract for her very first BBC series and thence super stardom.
In the title role Kara Lily Hayworth takes the stage by storm and makes the role her own with, dare I say it, a better voice than the original. Alexander Patmore as Bobby Willis plays the second in command of her career with aplomb while Andrew Lancel’s wooden acting style perfectly fits the character of controlling and manipulating Brian Epstein.
A versatile set framed by railway arches and incorporating many drop down flies takes us from the almost poverty stricken Liverpool of Cilla’s childhood to the Abbey Road studios and various TV studios.
Neil Macdonald as her father, John, channels Stanley Holloway to good effect. Providing most of the onstage music are Bill Caple, Alex Harford, Joe Etherington and Michael Hawkins as Ringo Starr (very complimentary casting), George Harrison, Paul McCartney and John Lennon respectively. My only criticism would be that the band/orchestra sometimes overpowers Hayworth’s voice
While many of the musical numbers are from Cilla’s back catalogue there are also quite a few from other influential Mersey Beat artistes like the Beatles, Gerry and The Pacemakers and The Big Three.
This is a joyful musical that tells the story of a poor Liverpool girl who made it big by sheer talent.
Cilla is halfway through a national tour (again) and is at Curve until Saturday 13 October
Details of future tour dates can be found at

First published on Western Gazette


The Wipers Times

Review by: Paul Towers, 24 September 2018
The Wipers Times by Ian Hislop & Nick Newman
A Trademark Touring & Watermill Theatre production
Curve – 24 – 29 September 2018

“a wonderfully comic account of the genesis of satirical publishing.”

Gallows humour is the laughs that come from dire circumstances. Funeral Directors are adept at defusing the sadness of their profession with  laughter. So, too, are soldiers, especially those on the battlefield, as was expertly portrayed by the film M*A*S*H.
The Wipers Times is a perfect example of humour being used to offset the horrors of the first world war and the task of surviving another day.
Chancing upon an old manual printing press in amongst the bombed out buildings of  Ypres, Fred Roberts and Jack Pierson, by chance having the services of ex printer Tyler to hand, resolve to utilise the dark humour of their situation and produce a morale boosting newspaper; an outlet for their emotions and a chance to satirise the high command.
Often written in those dark, wet nights between shellings and edited under fire, the prodigious output of the contributors was deemed by the authorities to be subversive and undermining of the war effort. Various commands to shut the paper down were ignored or circumvented and it continued throughout the war.
Ian Hislop and Nick Newman have written a wonderfully comic account of the genesis of satirical publishing. An hilarious mix of narrative, songs and dancing take us through the almost non-stop barrage of gunfire as the paper is compiled.
The Wipers Times paper got a fleeting name-check in the film Oh What A Lovely War and the favour is returned with fantasy sequences in homage to that show.
The wonderful programme on sale at Curve is created as a spoof copy of The Wipers Times with satirical poems, advertisements and stories.
A tight cast of 10 are lead by James Dutton and George Kemp as Roberts & Pierson. The set, designed by Dora Schweitzer, is effectively complimented by the sound and lighting effects of Steve Mayo and James Smith to recreate the appalling conditions of a Ypres trench.
The Wipers Times is on tour until December
Full details on

First published on Western Gazette


Speaking After Dinner

Review by: Paul Towers, Thursday, 20 September 2018
Speaking After Dinner
Jack Campbell
Upstairs @ The Western, 20 Sept 2018

“2 hours of  comedy.”

Tonight, scheduled as Speaking After Dinner with Jack Campbell & Matt Hollins, was replaced at the last minute by Jack Campbell and Friends when Matt went down with some sort of sickness. Get well soon Mr Hollins.
Jack Campbell MC’d the evening and kicked off with a some skilful audience interaction to warm us up on a stormy Leicester night.
Stepping into the breach were Lovdev Barpaga with a stream of one liners, some new, some old. Lovdev specialises in puns and is the current reigning UK Pun Champion. His set elicited the requisite groans and laughs from an appreciative audience.
Next up was Upstairs’s resident comedy workshop tutor, Jason Neale with the tale of a disappointing visit to Twycross Zoo with his 2 year old for the first time. His style is a casual ramble through a personal experience. Hilarious.
After the interval Jack Campbell was back with his experiences on being obsessed with the Wii and golfing.
Danny Clives was a new face to me and had a very self deprecating way of illustrating his perceived shortcomings while trying desperately to get a girlfriend
Finally there was Freddie Ferrell, a self proclaimed fat bearded bloke who still can’t believe he has found the love of his life (apart from Big Macs)
This was 2 hours of  comedy work in progress and more than worth the £5 entrance fee

Upstairs at The Western
First published on Western Gazette



Review by: Paul Towers, 18 September 2018
Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber & TS Eliot
Leicester Theatre Group presentation
Little Theatre 18 – 22nd September 2018

“hugely talented cast with the confidence of a professional troupe.”

Leicester Theatre Group is a Newfoundpool based non-profit organisation created to provide young people aged 11 to 18 with the opportunity to get involved in musical theatre and perform in one of their regular West End style productions, usually at The Little Theatre or the Sue Townsend Theatre. Last year they did Les Miserables and this year it is the turn of Cats.
A huge cast of 42 bring TS Eliot’s tales of Jellicle Cats to life on a set designed by Neil Allan that resembles a derelict yard. Ranged round the back is slatted fencing which cleverly allows the various kittens and cats to roam up and down the gantries behind giving the illusion  of a community of feral felines.
Director Zoe Curlett is an experienced West End performer and brings a mainstream sensibility to the production. Like Bob Fosse, Gillian Lynne’s style of choreography is instantly identifiable and Jessica Vaughan has wisely not deviated far from the original.
In such a large production there is plenty of room for individuals to shine and Maev Wood’s Grizabella singing Memories broke everyone’s heart.
This hugely talented cast danced and sang with the confidence of a professional troupe.
Cats is at The Little Theatre until Saturday 22nd September but is sold out. Call the box office for any returns.

First published on Western Gazette
A version of this review was broadcast on TakeOver Radio


Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Review by: Paul Towers, 12 September 2018
Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Richard & Robert Sherman, book by Jeremy Sams
A Leicester Amateur Operatic Society production
Haymarket Theatre 11 – 15 September 2018

“a spectacularly successful evening’s entertainment”

The Leicester Amateur Operatic Society (LAOS) has a reputation stretching back to 1890 for putting on professional quality shows using amateur performers. Their back catalogue covers a wide range of classics and modern shows. This year’s production, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, took to the stage in the West End in 2003 and on Broadway in 2005. The touring version ran from 2015 to 2017.
Based on the 1968 film this musical is the story of a single dad bringing up two children and home schooling them alongside their grandfather. The children persuade him to buy a wreck of a car that they have been playing with in a neighbour’s back yard. This turns out to be a somewhat famous old racing car which, unbeknownst to them, possesses magical powers. This is why the evil Baron Bombast wants it. Caractacus, the children, grandpa and Truly Scrumptious join forces to defeat the Baron, evade the Child Catcher and free the children of the kingdom.
Unexpectedly written by James Bond creator Ian Fleming and originally filmed by James Bond auteur Cubby Broccoli it was adapted for the screen by Roald Dahl (no surprise there).
As expected LAOS fielded a strong cast led by Darryl Clarke as an energetic Caractacus Potts, Nicole Webb as Truly Scrumptious with Harry Rooney and Rosie Oldman as the children. The scene stealer of the night was Rory, playing Edison the dog. Of course the outright star of the night is the car. And yes it does fly
With loads of sets, lots of back drops and a huge cast of 45 you would expect this to be a spectacularly successful evening’s entertainment. While the cast sing and dance up a storm; the sets are wheeled on and off mostly without too much noise. However all the hard work of the cast and crew was spoiled by an appallingly bad and inefficient sound system. All the way through the production the sound either cut out, faded down or blasted out feedback. The providers of the audio system should be ashamed of themselves. All credit should go to the cast who carried on without missing a beat. Professional performers in every way. Hopefully these problems can be rectified.

First published on Western Gazette


Strictly Ballroom The Musical

Review by: Paul Towers, 5/9/18
Strictly Ballroom The Musical by Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce
A Leeds Playhouse production directed by Drew McOnie
Piccadilly Theatre London until October 27th 2018

“the highest of camp and makes BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing look dowdy”

Anyone who remembers the 1992 film by Baz Luhrmann will be in no doubt about what to expect of his stage version. Imagine the result if Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was crossed with Everybody’s Talking About Jamie but with added feathers, sequins  and tulle. You would be going some way towards what is on the stage of The Piccadilly Theatre.
This show is the highest of camp and makes BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing look dowdy. All the girls look like drag queens. All the guys look like drag queens out of drag. It is huge fun with tons of laughs and a soundtrack of  familiar tunes shoe horned into the storyline with scant regard for chronology. But who cares?
The MC is the person who keeps everything under control (sort of) and sings most of the songs as he moves the narrative along. Usually this is played by Matt Cardle but on the Wednesday matinee I went his understudy, Justin-Lee Jones, was on and a very good job he did too. Two ladies sat behind me who had seen the show several times opined that he was the best yet.
Several of the characters have obviously been modelled on people we know. Les Kendall, played by Richard Grieve, is very much a Donald Trump caricature. Ken Railings, Gary Watson, was a high camp parody of Bob Downe (if there is such a thing) and Charlotte Gooch as Tina Sparkle was very like Kath & Kim, all screechy Aussie vowels.
The two leads were played by Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen, both known for their dancing skills. However this show stretches them further than ever and they both rise to the occasion splendidly with a wide range of dance styles and some impressive pasodoble footwork ably instructed by Fernado Mira’s Rico
A great supporting ensemble camp it up as Scott Hastings (Labey) throws the world of Australian ballroom dancing into chaos with his innovative dancing. Cue feather, sequins and ball gowns aplenty as they swirl across the floor.
The Piccadilly Theatre is a slightly jaded building packed into the space behind Shaftsbury Avenue. The Royal Circle has a rake so steep you almost need crampons; the seats are so low you are in danger of getting DVT and the velveteen is desperately in need of replacement. That said, the staff are very welcoming and helpful while the bar prices are no worse than any other West End theatre