Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

01/08/2018

Autumn 2018 in Leicester's Theatres


Autumn Line-up in Leicester Theatres

Curve
Leicester’s award winning theatre has a myriad of shows on between now and Christmas. Curve Youth Theatre’s latest production is Fiddler on The Roof (10-19 August). Another original Curve production is Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual (26 Sept – 6 Oct). As usual there are a brace of shows for the Christmas period. This year is Made at Curve’s White Christmas (6 Dec – 13 Jan) and also Made at Curve’s Dr Seuss’s The Cat in The Hat (8 Dec – 12 Jan). Coming up we are also blessed with being the first stop on the national tour of Les Miserables (3-24 Nov) and a stopoff for Cilla, the Musical (9-13 Oct). Inbetween there are loads of one nighters and several touring shows.
Full details of all shows can be found at www.curveonline.co.uk/whats-on

Upstairs at The Western
Upstairs’s autumn season is proving to be another packed schedule of  old favourites and new productions. Monthly treats are once again Film Noir (taking over from the popular Silent Cinema nights), Uncle Armando, Find The Right Words, Drag Queen Bingo, Choir Night and the ever popular Comedy Workshop. Levered in the gaps between the regular nights are a wide variety of poetry, plays and  standup comedy.
Full details can be found at www.upstairsatthewestern.com/whats-on

The Little Theatre
Again this wonderful home to Leicester amateur theatre has a full programme of visiting and home grown shows for the autumn. Among the delights in store are Blithe Spirit, Cats, Little Shop of Horrors, Spamalot and the LDS annual pantomime, this year Mother Goose.

Haymarket Theatre
Since reopening earlier this year this hidden gem has contented itself with a wide variety of corporate events and one-nighters. But this autumn they are expanding their appeal and staging a couple of shows that run. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is the annual offering from LAOS (11-15th Sept) and Treasure Island adapted by Sandi & Jennifer Toksvig (13 Dec – 6 Jan), the Haymarket’s first home grown production
Full details at www.haytheatre.com/whats-on

05/07/2018

David Walliams' Awful Auntie


Review by: Paul Towers, 05 July 2018
David Walliams’ Awful Auntie – adapted by Neal Foster
A Birmingham Stage Company production
DeMontfort Hall 5 – 8th July 2018

“a sure fire winner for the young and young at heart.”

David Walliams, he of Britain’s Got Talent and Little Britain, has garnered a reputation as a successful writer of children’s books. Several, of course, have already been adapted for the stage and Awful Auntie is the latest and probably won’t be the last.
As is customary for a Walliams show this is a battle of evil adult against spunky child. In this case Stella’s  evil Aunt Alberta is plotting to take possession of Saxby Hall, burn it down and create an owl museum, an Owlseum, if you will.
Awful Auntie borrows elements from several popular children’s books; Harry Potter and Roald Dahl to start with. This is not to denigrate the book or the show but to acknowledge its antecedents.
While the first half is a little wordy as the scene is set, the second half packs loads of magic and stunts in as Stella turns the tables on Aunt Alberta with the help of Soot, the friendly ghost.
Of course Timothy Speyer as Aunt Alberta, channelling both Walliams himself and Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull, has great fun stealing the show. As Stella, Georgina Leonidas (herself a former cast member of the Harry Potter films as Katie Bell) discharges herself well flying around the stage avoiding her Aunt and keeping up with Soot. Soot, the friendly ghost, is played by Ashley Cousins as a cross between Frank Spencer and Joe Pasquale climbing all over the set in an assured way as he tries to keep Stella out of trouble. The final cast member is Gibbon the butler, played with eccentric charm by Richard James and very reminiscent of David Jason’s doddery old timer. But of course we can’t forget Wagner. Not the composer but a huge owl expertly puppeted by Roberta Bellekorn who saves the day in several ways.
The set was very creatively designed by Jacqueline Trousdale and consisted of four towers which revolved and moved around the stage by remote control to create rooms within Saxby Hall including the cellar.
With lots of  smut for the children and a few jokes for the adults this is a sure fire winner for the young and young at heart.
Awful Auntie is on at DeMontfort Hall until Sunday with tickets available on most performances.

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








02/07/2018

Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain


Review by: Paul Towers, 02 July 2018
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain
By Simon Reade after Arthur Conan Doyle
A Theatre Royal Bath & Kenny Wax production
Curve  2 – 7th July 2018

“Sherlock Holmes has retired to obscurity.”

The premise of this new play is that Sherlock Holmes has retired to obscurity after supposedly dying in The Final Problem and ended up in a  cottage on the Sussex coast keeping bees. It is from here that events conspire to drag him back to 221b Baker Street where Dr & Mrs Watson reside and are looked after by Miss Hudson, daughter of their former housekeeper. Holmes is convinced that he is being stalked and liable to be killed. Can he work out who his killer is before they get to him?
I wanted there to be an energy, a Benedict Cumberbatch zing to both the dialogue and the action. But there wasn’t. The production lulled me into a relaxed state akin to listening to whale music. I couldn’t summon up any enthusiasm for the play.
It wasn’t that anything was wrong with the production, just that there wasn’t anything right.
The actors acted well, they projected without microphones and every word could be heard. The set looked nice, a back cloth separated the blank foreground from the busily dressed study behind. Scene changes were imaginatively covered by a curtain sliding across the stage but was more animated than the onstage action. The whole thing was very pedestrian. It looked and sounded like a radio play transferred lazily to the stage.
Robert Powell as Holmes did his best, enunciating well and declaiming with conviction. Timothy Knightley as Dr Watson was everything we could ask for as a replacement for Nigel Stock from the 60’s  TV series. Liza Goddard was suitably de-glamorised for her role as Mary Watson. Thank goodness for Anna O’Grady’s Miss Hudson for some much needed light relief.
At least we were comfortable in Curve’s air conditioned auditorium.
Tickets for the rest of the week’s run are available at www.curveonline.co.uk

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









30/06/2018

Super Hero



Review by: Paul Towers, 30 June 2018
Super Hero by Adam Johnson, music & lyrics by Henry Roadnight
A National Youth Music Theatre production
Curve 30 June 2018

“professional quality performances.”

National Youth Music Theatre (NYMT) was created in 1976 to enable young talented musical theatre performers to learn their craft in live productions. In the last few years Curve has been a regular stop on their annual tour and this year’s production was well up to their usual high standard. Since 2016 NYMT have been associate artists of Curve and have brought Sweet Charity, Spring Awakening and Billy The Kid to us.
This year’s offering, Super Hero, was commissioned by NYMT and written by alumni Adam Johnson and Henry Roadnight as part of NYMT’s commitment to nurturing new young musical theatre writers.
Super Hero is a timely story about how being different is often a good thing and something to be celebrated.
Sammy is special. Whenever he feels excited he starts to dance and everyone around him has no choice but to join in. In order for him to realise his potential his parents send him off to Hero School where he will fit in with all the other kids who have special powers.
This is a fun filled musical. Think X Men with music, comedy and dancing!
While the entire cast are exceptional there are  stand out performerances from 12 year old William Barter as Sammy and Florence Russell (20) as Principle Tilly Pathetic (channelling Maggie Smith’s Jean Brody to perfection).
As the villain of the piece and worthy of any pantomime, Anna Hale (21) as Miss Menace is ably assisted by her sidekick Mr Plop (Julian Plunkett 18) in their dastardly deeds. All of the cast give professional quality performances despite only being aged between 12 and 21.
Equally the orchestra is made up of talented musicians aged only 15 to 23.
This would make a great Christmas show for kids along the lines of Roald Dahl or Dr Seuss.
The next stop on their tour of this show is Rose Theatre, Kingston on 14th July
Full details of the work that National Youth Music Theatre does and its touring schedule can be found at www.nymt.org.uk/

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

28/06/2018

Into the woods


Review by: Paul Towers, 27 June 2018
Into The Woods by Stephen Sondheim
KW Productions, Kieran Whelan, Karen Gordon, Keir Watson
Little Theatre 26 – 30th June 2018

“KW Productions has shown their mastery of Stephen Sodheim’s works.”

Once again Kieran Whelan’s KW Productions has shown their mastery of Stephen Sodheim’s works.
Into The Woods is a mash up (to use the young people’s parlance) of several fairy tales but with a more realistic non-happy-ending. Oddly enough for a show that was first produced in 1986 it contains many themes that resonate with modern audiences.
Taking the stories of Cinderella, Jack and The Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel as a starting point Sondheim twists the stories together to make a much darker tale of adultery, despair, retribution and greed.
The first half takes us along the familiar paths of the various characters and all seems resolved. Cinderella gets her Prince, Jack gets his fortune, Red Riding Hood survives the wolf and Rapunzel escapes from her tower.
Then, after the interval, their whole world comes crashing down, literally, and we are warned to be careful what we wish for.
Once again Keiran Whelan has gathered around him a cast of excellent singers and actors along with musical director Leigh White.
While several cast member deserve mention, Lee Samuels as the Baker, Tim Stokes as Jack and Danielle Smith as the Baker’s Wife, special mention has to be made of KW Productions regular Karen Gordon who has huge fun vamping it up as the Witch. Much high comedy is provided by Whelan and Kier Watson as Ugly Sisters, the Princes and the cow (I know, it has to be seen to be believed).
The set is very simple but not ineffective with lots of props scattered around. The costumes are not elaborate but serve the story well.
This production is part of the fund raising drive that The Little Theatre is running to finance a huge expansion of their premises. Tickets are still available for the rest of the run

https://www.thelittletheatre.net/
http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

22/06/2018

Richard Pulsford


Review by: Paul Towers, 22 June 2018
Uns-Pun by Richard Pulsford
Upstairs @ The Western, Friday, 22 June 2018

“pithy puns and topical one liners.”

If, like me, you have the attention span of a goldfish and are a fan of playground humour then Richard Pulsford is a name to watch out for.
Richard has been gigging since 2004 and is often compared with Tm Vine, Milton Jones, Gary Delaney or Stewart Francis. He has been an invited performer at Leicester Comedy Festival’s annual Pun Competition and competed favourably for the last 4 years.
In preparation for this year’s Edinburgh Festival in August he is part of Upstairs at The Western’s series of Preview gigs.
Tonight his material ranged from pithy puns to topical one liners. Being a preview show the material was a little patchy, but that is what it is for, to sort the wheat from the chaff. The intimate audience appreciated the show and groaned and laughed in all the right places. Full details of up and coming shows can be found at www.richardpulsford.com

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

15/06/2018

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

13/06/2018

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 www.robgee.co.uk

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

10/06/2018

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 ww.facebook.com/davealnwick or his website http://davealnwick.com/

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


04/06/2018

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 www.curveonline.co.uk















31/05/2018

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 http://upstairsatthewestern.com/

24/05/2018

Blink


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 http://upstairsatthewestern.com/






16/05/2018

Fleabag


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
www.curveonline.co.uk



08/05/2018

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