Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

26/01/2018

Being Julie Andrews


Review by: Paul Towers, 26 January 2018
Being Julie Andrews by Lesley Emery
Performed by Lesley Emery, directed by Alison Dunne
Upstairs @ The Western, 26 & 27 January 2018

“emotional rollercoaster of a story.”

Last April we had Lesley Emery at Upstairs at The Western with local author Alison Dunne’s Cloaks. This year Ms Emery has brought her own autobiographical show, Being Julie Andrews. This is her story of growing up and becoming an actress after a successful career as a solicitor (the legal type, not the street walker).
Along the way she tells the poignant tale of her first love, an unplanned pregnancy, the painful adoption of her daughter and finally finding fulfilment as an actress and as second mother to her biological child.
Lesley Emery is a very talented actor and writer. Born and bred in the West Midlands she brings a unique poignancy to the narrative with her gift of fleshing out emotional details with just a few words, the twist of a cloth or a simple look.
Using the songs and films of Julie Andrews as aspirational and inspirational stepping stones in her life she finally casts off the fantasy of leading the Von Trapp family to safety across the Pennines and embraces a new aim, to be Julie Walters!
An appreciative audience for this first performance was almost sold out. There is a second show tomorrow (Saturday) and there are a few tickets left for this emotional rollercoaster of a story.

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

25/01/2018

Memoirs of a Dater


Review by: Paul Towers, 25 January 2018
Memoirs of a Dater by Samantha Sinyakena
Directed by Samantha Sinyakena & Josh Rai
Upstairs @ The Western, 25th January & 7th February 2018

“Vagina Monologues meets Bridget Jones”

One of the avowed aims of the new management team at Upstairs at The Western is to facilitate new talent. To this end they have brought together author Samantha Sinyakena with producer/director Josh Rai to bring to the stage the adaptation of Ms Sinyakena’s blog, and now book, of her dating misadventures.
The stage play is just a small sample of a whole book of escapades while trying to find Mr Right, or maybe just Mr Right Now. Think Vagina Monologues meets Bridget Jones. No awful, embarrassing or downright gross date is side stepped as we follow the author through a gamut of emotions ranging from that painful moment when you decide that several years of personal grooming neglect has to be addressed through dealing with an arrogant ex- to sex in a Smart car and thence to the inevitable visit to the STD clinic with your less than discreet BGF. It all culminates in an embarrassing first visit to a sex shop. All these disasters, and more are related by a cast of Danielle Wolf, Shannan Mitchener and
Araminta Jurgen-Romrigin a  series of monologues.
While this was the official Press Night for the show and also marked the start of Upstairs at The Western’s Leicester Comedy Festival schedule, the show is on again for two further performances on Wednesday 7th February. There are very limited tickets available so snap up the remaining ones now.

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

16/01/2018

Dick Whittington at The London Palladium


Review by: Paul Towers, 11 January 2018
Dick Whittington by Alan McHugh with additional material by Julian Clary, Paul Zerdin and David McGillivray with original songs by Gary Hind
A Qdos Entertainment production
London Palladium – Sat 9th December 2017 – Sunday 14th January 2018

“an amazing stellar cast”

Finally, a Really Useful Group theatre that feels as though its refurb has actually been completed. This, the jewel in not only RUG’s crown but that of all of London’s theatreland, is lavishly decorated in the Matcham style as it was he that remodelled it in the early 1900’s. The reception areas are a luxurious welcome into the home of London variety throughout the years. As the building was originally built to house a circus the public areas do come across as a bit of a maze with some very odd features round sundry corners. However, every wall is covered with posters and playbills from the past illustrating the wide range of shows and acts that have appeared over the years.
I arrived about 30 minutes early to collect my ticket and was ushered through security and the ticket desk without pause.
The auditorium of The Palladium, familiar to so many of us from numerous TV appearances, is vast. 2,286 seats are spread over 3 levels and virtually every seat has an unimpeded view of the stage.
Dick Whittington is the second year pantomime has been back at the Palladium after a gap of 30 years.
To say that money has been spent on this production is like saying that Greenland is a little cool.
To start off there is an amazing stellar cast including Julian Clary, Elaine Paige, Paul Zerdin, Nigel Havers, Gary Wilmot, Charlie Stemp and Diversity. As if that is not enough the set is mind bogglingly extravagant with huge set pieces, animatronic rats, pyrotechnics galore, a send up of Titatnic and even a flying London bus for no other reason than they can! On top of this there are the costumes, acres of sequins, silver lame and feathers. And that’s only for one scene. Outdoing every outfit on the stage is the awesome Julian Clary whose costumes as The Spirit of The Bells changed every time he made an entrance and got more and more over the top on each change until he was almost filling the stage on his own. Not to be outdone, his co-star Elaine Paige as Queen Rat flashed a shapely leg in a glittering black ensemble as she swished around the stage in high dudgeon giving all and sundry evils and threatening to take over London. Charlie Stemp, fresh from his career making stint in Half A Sixpence, made a very likeable Dick. The main cast was bulked out with Dame Gary Wilmot as Sarah Fitzwarren, Paul Zerdin (and Sam) as Idle Jack and Nigel Havers as Captain Nigel, surplus to requirements most of the time but the butt of endless jokes.
Ashley Banjo’s Diversity provided most of the dancing required and a large ensemble filled the rest of the stage.
A friend of mine had been to see the show twice so we compared notes of the various bits of ‘business’ we had noticed and every single fluffed line, every missed cue, every dropped prop and every ad lib was very carefully and precisely scripted so as to wring every single laugh out of an outrageous script. Julian Clary had been given free reign to write his own lines and his brand of entendre (rarely doubled) was visible at every turn.
When it came to songs Elaine Paige was well served with a whole slew of parodied Andrew Lloyd Webber classics from her back catalogue, even if Clary cut her off sharply after just one line sometimes. Charlie Stemp was also honoured with a mash up of his signature song, Flash Bang Wallop from Half A Sixpence.
So, was this traditional pantomime for the kiddies? Not really although I am sure most of the smut would go over the heads of the average under 12’s In truth this is more a show for the grown-ups. On the matinee I visited the largely OAP members laughed their heads of before climbing back on their coaches to the provinces, Tena Lady’s a timely precaution.

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

04/01/2018

Silent Movie Night - Nosferatu


Review by: Paul Towers, 04 January 2018
Silent Movie Night - Nosferatu
Presented and curated by Paul Kousoulides
Upstairs @ The Western, 4 January 2018 and every first Thursday of the month

“Silent Movie Night at The Western.”

A new year and a new idea for Leicester’s only pub theatre. On the first Thursday of the month for the next six months they are showing classic silent movies. All of them (except the last one which is a modern classic) digitally restored and remastered with an orchestral soundtrack to enhance your enjoyment.
First off the rank was the classic German expressionist masterpiece, Nosferatu.
On release in 1922 (that makes it virtually 100 years old) it was a box office flop and when Bram Stoker’s widow took the producers to court for plagiarism they lost the case and were instructed to destroy all copies. Fortunately for posterity some prints survived. This copy has obviously been cobbled together from different prints, witness the variations in colour of the monochrome. However, with a lush orchestral score over it this is not a distraction.
The story is lifted almost wholesale from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, hence the court case. A na├»ve young man leaves his new wife behind when he goes to Transylvania on business. He sells a house to Count Orlok (Dracula) who ships himself over in a  coffin filled with the soil he was buried in where he sucks the blood of all and sundry. His spell is broken when the wife deliberately gives her blood to him and keeps him from his coffin after cock crow.
A substantial audience was very appreciative of the film and of Paul Kousoulides’ expert background to the film and genre.
The next Silent Movie Night is on Thursday 1st February when they will be showing The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, another German classic of the genre.
Future gems are Buster Keaton’s The General on 8th Marc, Chaplin’s Modern Times on 5th April, The Passion of Joan of Arc on 3rd May and, bringing us fully up to date, 2011’s The Artist on 7th June
David Bell, Upstairs at The Western’s artistic director, is currently open to suggestions for future collections of movies of all types. One idea is to have other silent movies but with a live piano/keyboard accompaniment. If that is something you could do, please email him via the website.
Another idea is perhaps for someone to suggest a theme for a night; maybe Mamma Mia for a birthday; maybe get your company to sponsor a movie night as a treat for their workers. David would love to hear any ideas you may have.

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

03/01/2018

Upstairs at The Western - the first year


A year ago Upstairs at The Western had a change of management. The old guard of Off The Fence moved on to other things and David Bell and his team stepped in to take over running the venue. I met up with David to see how he thought the first 12 months had gone and what his plans going forward are.

Paul Towers:            So, how’s your first year been? To start off artistically, how difficult has it been for you? Obviously there was a gap before you actually took over in which the previous owners would have

David Bell:              Yeah, so when we got told that we’ve taken over the theater in January of 2017, we were told after the end of October 2016, so we had two months basically to get ready for the spring 2017 season. Because Off The Fence knew they were leaving they hadn’t booked anything. So, we had a manic run around to try find touring companies at the last minute. Thankfully we inherited people like Jess Green for Find The Right Words,

But I think in our first season, the six months, January to June 17, I think we managed to get about 25 shows and by and large they weren’t too bad. I think artistically there were a couple in there that probably weren’t as good as we’d hoped they were going to be but on the whole we managed to attract quality shows from the off.

PT:                         I am someone who is here on a very regular basis and I thought you did amazingly well. I know that first season was quite heavy on spoken words and poetry. I guess that was because it was easy to book in at short notice.

DB:                         To get the high ranking jobs and stuff like Gratiano and The Unknown Soldier we had to pay really high guarantees which we didn’t meet. So that cost us money. I think our first season was a bit of a scramble, we didn’t really get to the printers with a good brochure because we didn’t have time. So we just had to get a pamphlet. It was just really getting used to running the business and all the behind the scene stuff, but I think, yeah, it’s got a lot easier. Autumn ‘17 has been a lot easier.

PT:                         The lineup of stuff that you’ve had this autumn, I think it’s been phenomenal. A very broad range. I don’t know whether it’s a deliberate thing, trying to cater for everybody or is it a question of working out what brings the punters in?

DB:                         No, I think the difference is, I mean, Off The Fence were a larger drama-based company and they are also a producing company that used to produce their own shows and toured with them. But our bid was all about turning Upstairs at The Western into a multi-genre arts venue for the West End of Leicester. So it’s a case of widening the genres, branching out more into music, comedy, a bit more poetry, film, those kind of things, but also increasing the volume. So the previous owners did about 50 shows a year and our business plan aims for about 150 shows a year. Because we are closed in July and August, that’s about 15 a month or 3 a week.

In the autumn 2017 season I think we hit about 50 shows. Some of those are workshops, comedy workshops, but around 40 to 50 shows over 4 months, that’s about 10 a month. Next season, January to June ‘18, we are looking at about 100 shows.

PT:                         Wow!

DB:                         So we’re widening the type of shows we’re doing. The type of thing we’ve gotten here is a lot broader than it has been before, but we are expanding it in what can be a crowded marketplaces. There is loads of comedy coming in. We’re coming back big time in the Leicester Comedy Festival next year.

It’s all part of our expansion and we have just got to go through the growing pains to kind of get there really. The change in the nature of the place is deliberate to make it multi-genre art, that sort of thing.

PT:                         Yeah, and I guess the fact that you don’t have to consider putting your own productions on makes it a little bit easier because it frees up a lot of time.

DB:                         It does, yeah. The closest we are coming to that is in the second part of our bid was about helping in the development of new artists and new companies. So somebody comes to us and says, I’ve got a play and I want to put it on the stage. We will help them as much as we can to develop and stage it. So we’ve got a writer who is putting a play on in February 2018. She’s got a script which she wrote herself and  she’s doing all the auditions here. We had a guy who wrote in and said I want to direct a play so we introduced the two to each other and they are getting on like a house on fire and they are now co-producing the show.

We will put it out for £5, we will label it as a work in progress. We had a really young company last year who did Voices of Reason.

PT:                         Oh yes, I liked that.

DB:                         And yeah, what they lacked in kind of artistic expertise, they really made for it in terms of energy.

PT:                         And enthusiasm.

DB:                         And enthusiasm and that just needs channelling over the years.

PT:                         I said in my review for that that the script needed a little bit of trimming, cutting the end off, but there was lots of very good elements within it that work very well. They just need a script editor, I think. But they make good use of the off-stage space.

DB:                         Yes, they did. It’s what we would call a safe space. There’s a big difference between doing something in your bedroom and getting on to a big stage which is really intimidating and Upstairs at The Western is like a stepping stone between the two, so it’s a nice safe space.
David and his team obviously have huge ambitions for Upstairs at The Western with a great  number of shows booked in for the Leicester Comedy Festival (http://comedy-festival.co.uk/events/). Full details of all future shows at this vibrant venue can be found at http://www.upstairsatthewestern.com/
Among the many innovations watch out for the monthly Silent Film Nights when old b/w silent movies are shown. The first is Nosferatu this Thursday 4th January. Another great novelty is the monthly Choir Night, the first on Wednesday 24th January. Full details of these and all shows are on the Upstairs at The Western website.

First published in Western Gazette