Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen


Njambi McGrath & Sara Mason

Review by: Paul Towers, 15 June 2018
Njambi McGrath & Sara Mason
Edinburgh Festival Preview
Upstairs @ The Western, Friday, 15 June 2018

“an eclectic mix of acts.”

I just love Edinburgh Preview season at Upstairs at The Western. There is such an eclectic mix of acts and tonight was one of the most ‘interesting’
First up was Njambi McGrath, a Kenyan national now resident in the UK. Njambi came here a few years ago after visiting the US, which makes up a big chunk of her material in this show. Contrasting the American Dream as seen from East Africa with the racist reality makes for hard hitting comedy with a message. She has an endearing habit of rounding off rambling tales with killer one liners. She is also adept at throw away asides which catch the audience unawares. All great fun.

Now I am having trouble making this next act family friendly. But I will try.
Sara Mason is an accomplished actor, presenter and stand up comic. For the last 2 years she has been honing her latest show, Mistress Venetia, A Beginner’s Guide To Bondage and it is now set fair for Edinburgh. As the title suggests this is BDSM for Dummies, think Cynthia Payne with more whips as demonstrated by a middle aged dominatrix in garish pink boots and chains. There is very little I can safely say in a respectable family magazine except to point out that this is only for the very broadminded person who is up for both education in the dark arts and a fair amount of audience participation.

Upstairs at The Western


Checkout (or Archibald's Pacemaker)

Review by: Paul Towers, 13 June 2018
Checkout by Rob Gee
Upstairs @ The Western, 13th June 2018

“Hilarious, often Orton-esque.”

It is often difficult to critique a work in progress. In the case of Rob Gee’s Checkout he had the script to hand as this was a very early read through. While the main elements of this hilarious series of  interlinking stories are all there I feel there is still a little work to link them smoothly. That said, this is once again a travail through the often bizarre mind of Rob Gee, comic, poet and psychiatric nurse.
Dominic wakes up with a memory blackout and discovers he’s handcuffed to a coffin containing the cold stiff body of John major. Archie has bequeathed his pacemaker to his friend who falls in love at his funeral. Maddy has kicked a burglar in the groin and now she has a taste for it. Bollock has his issues. Along the way we discover how a secondhand pacemaker can make a great toy for a 6 year old.
Gee’s last show, The King of Egypt (or Icarus Rising) introduced us to his surreal world and Checkout allows us to immerse ourselves in it even further. Hilarious, often Orton-esque, episodes pile one upon another as his characters lurch from crisis to crisis until, finally, they culminate in a sort of resolution. At least for some of them.
Information about Rob Gee’s work can be found at

Upstairs at The Western


Dave Alnwick- Luxury Magician

Review by: Paul Towers, 9 June 2018
Luxury Magic – Dave Alnwick
Upstairs @ The Western, 9 June 2018

“an extraordinary bundle of ginger magic.”

When this extraordinary bundle of ginger magic bounced onto the stage of Upstairs at The Western last year I was blown away with his tricks and banter. This year he is back, prior to the Edinburgh Fringe, with a completely different show.
This time he has bundled together a load of card tricks which become more and more unbelievable as the show progresses. The patter this time is all about how psychology determines our life choices and, apparently, our card choices. As young Mr Alnwick would have us believe he lectures in psychology, I can well believe his assumptions.
He also demonstrated some amazing feats of memory.
He has a very charming, slightly bumbling, stage persona. Now, whether that is natural or put on to bamboozle the audience I have no idea, but it works like a dream
Dave Alnwick’s Luxury Magic show is on its way to Edinburgh and he has dates all the way up til then.
Full details of his shows can be found on Facebook at or his website

Upstairs at The Western


Crazy for you

Review by: Paul Towers, 04 June 2018
Crazy For You , music & lyrics by George & Ira Gershwin, book by Ken Ludwig
A Watermill Theatre production directed by Paul Hart
Curve – 4 – 9th June 2018

“an evening of musical heaven”

From the moment the lights go down and a lone clarinet breathes out the opening bars of Rhapsody in Blue from behind the gauze you know you are in for an evening of musical heaven.
Crazy For You  is a show packed full of both familiar numbers and some new to the discerning musical theatre ear. The first half is a smorgasbord of Krazy For You, Shall We Dance, Someone To Watch Over Me, Embraceable You, Tonight’s The Night and I Got Rhythm. And that’s only the ones I recognised. There were just as many inbetween that were new to me.
The second half continued to spoil us with They Can’t Take That Away From Me, But Not For Me, Nice Work If You Can Get It and a fabulous finale. Again these were interspersed with a whole raft of unfamiliar numbers.
The Gershwins were a veritable song factory, far too many for anyone to know all of, so it is nice to get a sample of their less well know work alongside hummable standards.
This week at Curve is the last in a two year tour of this production and you can see the familiarity the cast have with each other, the little comic bits put in, the gymnastics they are comfortable with stretching almost to breaking point.
The story, such as it is, concerns Bobby Child, sent to the wilds of  Nevada to foreclose on a run down theatre mortgaged to his mother. There he meets a girl, Polly Baker and proceeds to fall in love. Of course, this is a romantic comedy musical so nothing goes right. But along way we get to see a whole load of dancing, singing and hilarity before the couple fall into each other’s arms just as the curtain comes down.
The company is lead by Tom Chambers, understandable winner of season 6 of Strictly, with Claire Sweeney as his pushy fiancée Irene. Claire of course is a familiar face at Curve having been in Hairspray. Bobby’s love interest, Polly, is played by Charlotte Wakefield, a powerhouse of a performer whether she is singing, dancing or playing instruments. In fact every single member of the cast plays an instrument. Even Tom Chambers carried a creditable tune on the trumpet.
The set, basically the run down theatre, is an ambitious one for a touring show with galleries, staircases and tatty balconies which the cast climb up and down at an alarming rate.. Tom Chambers even does a drunken abseil at one point which must have given Health & Safety nightmares!
As the entire musical accompaniment is live and on stage and often dancing as well, there is no recorded back up, no click track for the tap dancing. The incredible cast provide every single sound and effect in full view.
The Follies Dancers provide an effective chorus line as well as various characters and the redneck band provide the same service for the male characters.
This production, directed by Paul Hart and designed by Diego Pitarch is a credit to Watermill and the choreography by Nathan M Wright perfectly captures the essence of  1930’s backstage musicals.
I defy you to come out into the night not humming at least one number
Oh, and mention has to be made of the sumptuous programme. A huge A3 catalogue of high resolution production photographs with informative programme notes and background material.
Tickets for the rest of the week are available at


9/11 was a conspiracy

Review by: Paul Towers, 31 May 2018
9/11 Was A Conspiracy written and directed by Pip Nixon
Performed by Nicola Wood
Upstairs @ The Western, 31st May 2018

“a heady mix of humour, pathos and bonkers conspiracy theories.”

Upstairs at the Western has established itself as a step along the journey to The Edinburgh Festival. This is 52 Up’s first production and is the first performance of the almost-finished article before the festival.
This is the story of how a couple get together and, despite differing views, make a go of it.
She is out for a night with the girls and spots this guy along the bar looking at her. He has nice eyes. Inevitably they end up in bed. He makes her laugh. He is good in bed. He is good to his dear old mum. What can possibly go wrong?
It turns out he believes all the conspiracy theories floating around on the internet. 9/11 was a deliberate Government hoax; the Pentagon wasn’t crashed into; Sandy Hook never happened. The list is endless.
So, how do you continue a relationship with someone you love when you don’t love what they believe?
Nicola Wood’s monologue is as though she is pouring out her frustrations to her girlfriend as she tries to rationalise her feelings for a man for whom there are certain subjects she needs to avoid if she wants to prevent a too heavy discussion.
A simple set of a chair against a black cloth allows us to easily concentrate on Nicola’s dialogue, a heady mix of humour, pathos and, to rational people, bonkers conspiracy theories.
9/11 Was A Conspiracy heads off to The Edinburgh Fringe on 3rd August 2018. We wish them well
Follow their progress on their Facebook page, 52UpProductions

Upstairs at The Western



Review by: Paul Towers, 24 May 2018
Blink by Phil Porter
An Upstairs at the Western and Selfless production
Directed by Josh Rai
Upstairs @ The Western, 24th – 25th May 2018

“Blink tries to make sense of  modern romance.”

What is love? What is a relationship? How does modern technology factor into it?
Blink tries to make sense of  modern romance.
Sophie (Katie Amanda Smith), a software developer, has been nursing her terminally ill father in the house. Once he has passed she uses the money he left her to divide the house into two flats. She takes the upstairs and lets out the downstairs to Jonah. Jonah (John Saxton) is an unworldly, naïve farmer’s son. His mother has died and he has left the security of  the "self-sustaining religious community" to experience life in London. By chance he ends up renting the bottom floor of a converted house in Islington with the legacy his mother left him to escape his father’s cloying ways.
So far so good. But where it takes a bizarre turn is that she leaves the baby video monitor that she had used to keep an eye on her father connected. Obviously intrigued by her new lodger she posts the receiver for the baby monitor to him and he takes to watching her as she goes about her normal day. This would be very creepy if it wasn’t for the fact that she, the watched, instigated it and he, the watcher, is unaware that she knows or even that she is his landlady. That is, until one day she drops a load of things on the floor just as he is watching her and he puts two and two together.
Now that they both know that she is watching and that he is complicit they start a remote relationship, eating meals together, watching TV together all courtesy of the magic of wifi.
Gradually they start to go out to places together, but still not together. Not interacting. Until eventually they decide to take things a step further and move in together. But of course it doesn’t work. Their voyeur/exhibitionist relationship is as close as they can handle.
This may all seem very odd but, if it works for them, who are we to judge?
John Saxton and Katie Amanda Smith do a fine job of bringing this idiosyncratic couple to life with comedy and pathos.
Blink is on at Upstairs at The Western again tomorrow, Friday 25th May and tickets are still available

Upstairs at The Western



Review by: Paul Towers, 16 May 2018
Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge
A Soho Theatre & Dry White production directed by Vicky Jones and performed by Maddie Rice
Curve 16 – 19 May 2018

“laugh, cry and be shocked all within minutes"

This is the stage show based on the BBC series which in itself  was born of the Edinburgh Festival show by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Fleabag (that is the nearest we get to an actual name) takes us careering through her life as she copes with the death of her best friend, a chaotic sex/love life and a failing business. Add into the mix the untimely death of Hillary, the sole link she still has with her dead best friend, and you have some idea of the mess her life is in. Hillary, by the way, is a guinea pig (it is way too complicated to explain!)
Fleabag unburdens herself  to us, a stand in for her BFF, and drags us through her chaotic series of one-night stands, social anxiety  and disastrous job interviews.
All this tumbles out unfiltered, outrageously, graphically filthy and hilariously inappropriate.
As played by Maddie Rice, Fleabag instantly draws you into her world, unsavoury as it is. With just a single chair on a raised dais, Rice creates this extraordinary place where we laugh, cry and are shocked all within minutes. A nice batch of half a dozen voice-overs fill in the gaps as Fleabag lurches from one crisis to another.
This show is huge fun so long as you have a broad mind.
Catch this hilarious show at Curve until Saturday 19th May


Love from a stranger

Review by: Paul Towers, 08 May 2018
Love from a stranger by Agatha Christie & Frank Vosper
A Fiery Angel & Derngate Northampton production
Curve 8 – 12 May 2018

“full of red herrings and plot twists.”

When you see Dame Agatha Christie’s name on a book or play you can be sure that the story will be full of red herrings and plot twists. There will also be plenty of plot holes, but that doesn’t matter as the tension is ramped up.
Love From a Stranger started off as a short story called Philomel Cottage, part of The Listerdale Mystery collection. Although Christie went on to write it up as a stage play it was never performed. Actor Frank Vosper, eyeing up a potential lead for himself, created a much tighter version which was a hit in London’s West End in 1936.
In the intervening years there have been sundry radio and film versions but this version has brought it bang up to date with technological innovations.
Ostensibly a fairly run of the mill drawing room comedy in the first half, two friends, Mavis and Cecily, have won £50,000 on a sweepstake. A life changing amount in the 1930’s. Mavis plans to travel while cautious Cecily is finally able to marry her dull but reliable fiancée of 5 years, Michael. As a result she is looking to rent out her flat. A strange young man, Bruce Lovell (Sam Frenchum), arrives to potentially rent the flat and Cecily (Helen Bradbury) falls head over heels in love immediately.
The second half ramps up the tension as Bruce becomes more and more controlling and finally reveals his hand.
All this would be very standard Agatha Christie, played out in a hundred am dram church halls the length of the country. But here is where Director Lucy Bailey has surprised us all. Gathered around her are designer Mike Britton, lighting designer Oliver Fenwick and sound designed Richard Hammarton. Together they have come up with an innovative set which slides back and forth, much like watching a widescreen film on a regular TV. This enables us to see beyond the immediate stage. Creative lighting and sound really ramp up the psychological tension. Then, just when you think there are no more tricks to keep us on the edge of our seats, a room at the top of the stairs is revealed enabling Bruce to watch and overhear the goings on downstairs. The final plot twists caught us all unawares and gave a blood tingling final curtain.
Love From a Stranger is at Curve until Saturday
First published on Western Gazette


The Crucible

Review by: Paul Towers, 03 May 2018
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
A Curve & DeMontfort University co-production
Curve Studio 3 – 5 May 2018

“ A damning indictment of the confluence of  ignorance, bigotry and religious fervour.”

Once again Curve has provided facilities and mentoring to DeMontfort University’s drama and performing arts students to allow them to experience performing before a paying audience in a  professional theatre.
This year’s offering is Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. A damning indictment of the confluence of  ignorance, bigotry and religious fervour; a cesspool of  intolerance that is all too common even if these supposed enlightened times.
Set at the height of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, a time when the mere whisper of something out of the ordinary could be easily twisted to suit the agenda of those looking for witchcraft at every turn. Miller wrote it in 1953 as a savage satire on the ongoing McCarthy hunt for ‘reds under the bed’ where yet again the merest hint of non-conformity was twisted to expose so called communist leanings. The paranoia of the Salem Witch Trials has been repeated ad nauseum throughout history and invariably used to explain things not understood.
Played out on a sparse set of four huge suspended blocks, the space between them symbolising the cross of the supposedly welcoming church, the few props are brought on and off by hand. Creative lighting changes the time of day and the mood of the action. A largely subdued soundtrack subtly signals impending crises.
The cast of fairly inexperienced actors do a great job but a couple stand out as ones to watch in the future. Ransford Boi as John Proctor has great stage presence and good clear diction and projection; Calum Harris as Deputy Governor Danforth holds centre stage for most of the second half and has the personality to do so.
The Crucible is on at Curve until Saturday
First published on Western Gazette


The Little Mermaid

Review by: Paul Towers, Tuesday, 01 May 2018
The Little Mermaid by David Nixon OBE
A Northern Ballet production with music by Sally Beamish
Curve until 5th May 2018

“Abigail Prudames as Marilla is a beautifully expressive dancer.”

As part of its 2018 national tour Northern Ballet returned to Leicester’s Curve  with this new production of The Little Mermaid. Based in Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairytale David Nixon has eschewed the saccharine of Disney’s version and gone for the darker, more moralistic original.
Marilla, Abigail Prudames, is the youngest daughter of Lord of the Sea, Lyr, danced by Matthew Topliss. Marilla’s older sisters are deemed old enough to venture up to the surface to witness the wonders of the land but she must stay in the safety of the deep sea. Upon their return they discard a locket they have found and Marilla picks it up, opens it and falls in love with the human pictured inside. Bothered by her obsession with the human her father, Lyr, conjures up a storm which wrecks the boat of the sailors above. Marilla rushes to the surface and manages to rescue the almost dead sailor of her locket, Prince Adair (Joseph Taylor). Having fallen in love with Adair Marilla convinces Lyr to give her a potion to allow her to live on land. The downside is that once she has lost her tail she will be in permanent pain in her legs and she will lose her beautiful singing voice. Suffice to say this ultimately ends in tragedy thus proving that you should be very careful what you wish for.
The set is beautiful, a pair of huge asymmetrical walls that are turned around and around to provide both shore rocks and water walls. This effect is greatly enhanced by creative lighting. Under the sea are some marvellous jellyfish and large fish on poles.
The music, provided by a live orchestra and singer Stephanie Irvine as the voice of the mermaid, is original and especially created for this piece. While most of it was gently complimentary of the dancing there were times when portentous bass drum rolls were inappropriate.
When it comes to the dancers Abigail Prudames’ Marilla, the titular Little Mermaid, is a beautifully expressive dancer whose talent shines throughout the piece. She is superbly complimented by Joseph Taylor as Adair and Matthew Topliss as Lyr. Every one of the ensemble are a credit to the company.
This is a beautifully performed new ballet that will, I am sure, remain in their repertoire for many years to come.
Full details of the tour can be found at

First published on Western Gazette


Kiss of the Spiderwoman

Review by: Paul Towers, 27/4/18
Kiss of The Spiderwoman by Manuel Puig, adapted by Jose Rivera & Allan Baker
A Menier production starring Samuel Barnett & Declan Bennett with Grace Cookey-Gam
Menier Chocolate Factory until 5 May 2018

“Outstanding performances by both Bennett and Barnett.”

Many people will be aware of the film of Manual Puig’s The Kiss of The Spiderwoman starring William Hurt and Raol Julia. This is the most recent adaptation of the original book which is a stripped back narrative concentrating solely on the relationship between Molina (Samuel Bennet), the gay man incarcerated for gross indecency, and Valentin (Declan Bennett) the straight political activist. Forced into uncomfortable proximity they form an uneasy alliance in an attempt to break the boredom engulfing them. To this end Molina enacts old romantic movies from the heyday of Hollywood starring strong leading ladies.
As Molina’s ever more flamboyant portrayals of movie queens progress Valentin finds himself drawn in despite himself until eventually it gets too much and, needs must, Molina’s dream of romance with tough guy Valentin finally becomes a reality.
The interior of the Menier has been transformed into a battered concrete corner of the cell block with a mezzanine of cell doors ranged around the set. Rubble is scattered across the floor as the two prisoners try and make themselves comfortable on their basic metal beds.
Outstanding performances by both Bennett and Barnett make this a tense discourse on how to survive adversity. The finale of this production surprises everyone with, apart from the expected denouement, a rain shower onstage.

The Grinning Man

Review by: Paul Towers, 27/4/18
The Grinnin Man by Carl Grose, Tom Morris, Tim Phillips & Marc Teitler
Bristol Old Vic & Trafalgar Entertainment production
Trafalgar Studios til 5 May 2018

“funny, sad, musical story of triumph over adversity.”

Imagine a time towards the end of the 19th century, a time of magic and fairytales. Especially Grimm Fairytales. Imagine a parallel universe where horrific things are done, where giant wolf-dogs abound and travelling carnivals shelter the weird and wonderful. This is the world of the Grinning Man, Grimpayne, played by Louis Makell, an orphan whose mouth was slit in a failed attempt to silence his witnessing of his parents’ murders.
Appallingly disfigured and scared, Grimpayne is sheltered in a travelling fair to be exhibited for pennies.
So far this does not sound like a good basis for an amusing musical. But, based on the story by Victor Hugo (no surprise given his other famous works include Les Miserable and The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and reworked for the stage by Carl Grose with original music by Carl Grose, Tom Morris, Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, this turns into a funny, sad, musical story of triumph over adversity and karma.
The theatre has been made over to resemble a run down carnival, paint and playbills are peeling off the walls and the stage is surrounded by weathered wood with fading paintwork depicting the titular split smile of Grimpayne. The proceedings are narrated and progressed by a sinister jester/MC, played by Julian Bleach, whose servile manner and Shakespearean oratory, hides myriad secrets
The set in what is a comparatively intimate theatre space is incredibly complex with chunks of scenery moving in and out and round and round as the action moves from the circus to the bedrooms of various people, to the royal court to the forest.
Add into this mix several puppets (created by the team behind War Horse) including a wolf/dog the size of a pony and the child Grimpayne
Trafalgar Studios were, in a previous incarnation, The Whitehall Theatre. Nowadays this has been split into two intimate theatres studios by the relatively simple method of building a stage floor out from the front of the old balcony. The upstairs studio therefore has steeply raked seating meaning great views form every part of the auditorium. The only downside is that, being an old theatre, leg room is not a priority. If you are above average height avoid the side seats in the front 10 rows,


Drag Queen Bingo

Review by: Paul Towers, Friday, 20 April 2018
Drag Queen Bingo with Nancy Saeed
Upstairs @ The Western, 20th April –next session Thu 14th June

“more outrageous than a Wednesday afternoon at Freemans Common Gala,.”

Drag Queen Bingo. It does exactly what it says on the tin.
Drag Queen Nancy Saeed presides over cards of bingo and other silly games for what she freely admits are tacky gifts that even Blankety Blank would be ashamed of (actually, not that tacky, just low end and proud of it). But then who goes to this sort of night to win a life changing fortune? Its all about the craic!
Of course some of her acidic asides are bordering on tasteless, but what do you expect from a cock in a  frock? This sure ain’t family fun. Leave your prudery at the door, embrace the glitz and have a good time. You never know, you may even win a bottle of  Alepcin!
Our Nancy is also no mean singer as was shown by her initial version of Rollin’ Down The River and parody of Adele’s Hello.
A lively, enthusiastic, sold out audience were on her side from the very beginning.
If you are looking for a few games of bingo that are far more outrageous than a Wednesday afternoon at Freemans Common Gala, then this is for you. But be warned, the tickets fly so book early.

Upstairs at The Western