Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen



Review by: Paul Towers, 26 March 2018
Flashdance the Musical by Tom Hedley & Robert Cary with music and lyrics by Robbie Roth & Robert Cary
A Selladoor production
DeMontfort Hall 26 – 31 March 2018

“Joanne Clifton, a phenomenal dancer”

The original film starring Jennifer Beals (with Marine Jahan doing some of the dancing while a male dancer called Crazy Legs did the iconic audition sequence) was an unqualified disaster according to critics at the time of release (1983). However over the years it has gained a cult following, especially for late night date night cinema showings.
While the stage musical follows the film fairly accurately there is no need for any body doubles or stunt performers. Some aspects of the story have had to be skipped but there was a quite relevant addition of drug taking added in. The show includes all the music numbers from the film along with a whole load of extra songs designed to move the story along.
Based on a true story, this is a tale of a lowly female steel worker who dreamed of being a dancer and applied to a dance college to learn.
As Alex, Joanne Clifton, ex of Strictly, the show has a phenomenal dancer with a great voice and who can actually act. As Nick Hurley, her rich lover, Ben Adams, previously of boyband A1, sings up a storm. The amazing ensemble dancers/singer/actors dance their socks off in a multitude of costumes while swinging the mobile sections of the vast set around as needed. As this show is set in the 80’s, the decade that taste forgot, the cast are kitted out in lots of lycra, leg warmers and layered shorts. Did we really go out in public in stuff like that? I am afraid some of us did.
The live band means that pauses can be left for well deserved applause.
Flashdance continues at DeMontfort Hall all this week and then continues touring. Full details on Some tickets are still available on


The Carrot Nappers

Review by: Paul Towers, 25 March 2018
The Carrot Nappers by Keith Large
A Carrot Nappers production directed by Anna Bond
Upstairs @ The Western, 24th & 25th March 2018

“sharply written, pun riddled, double entendre laden.”

A very British comedy, The Carrot Nappers is set in the aphrodisiac atmosphere of an allotment where prize winning vegetables are grown by gentlemen of the earth like Albert. But hark, scandal strikes when a 17ft carrot is stolen and out of work nightclub bouncer Vinnie is blamed for failing to guard it.
A scheme is hatched whereby Onion Head, the thief, is to be lured to the Love Shack, Albert’s hideout where he indulges his love of specialist magazines. Steam engines! Onion Head is to be honey trapped by Vinnie’s girlfriend (well one of them) Lisa who will steal his clothes and hold them to ransom. His wife is to be informed if the carrot is not returned forthwith.
This is a sharply written, pun riddled, double entendre laden script worthy of any Carry On film.
A small cast of  Peter MacManus, Mark Theobold, Eleanor Burke and Chris Leaney have great fun with the improbable story which, if I am honest, owes inspiration to Wallace & Grommit.
Carrot Napper Productions is a Leicestershire based company supporting local actors and writers.
Full details of the production and future dates can be found at
The script has been published in book form to raise funds for the Stroke Association. Copies available here

Upstairs at The Western


Everybody's talking about Jamie

Review by: Paul Towers, 14 March 2018
Everybody’s talking about Jamie by Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom Macrae
A Sheffield Theatre production directed by Jonathan Butterall
Apollo Theatre, London from 22 November 2017 ongoing

“energetic, outrageous, life affirming.”

In 2011 BBC3 showed a documentary called Jamie: Drag Queen at 16. From that Sheffield Theatres developed a musical based on the story of a 16 yr old gay boy who wanted to go to his school prom in a frock. Dan Gillespie Sells of pop group The Feeling collaborated with playwright Tom Macrae to create an energetic, outrageous, life affirming story of triumph amid adversity.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie takes the basic premise and opens it up to encompass a message about bullying, sexual awakening and the unconditional love of a mother.
The songs are very specifically divided into two genres; Jamie and the youngsters have a selection of songs that I thought very reminiscent of Boy George’s in Taboo. The adults have altogether different songs which reminded me of the score to Blood Brothers. Both these comparisons are highly complimentary.
The set, designed by Anna Fleischle is a marvel of adaptability and houses the onstage band high up above the action.
The youngsters in the ensemble play a wide variety of characters in various costumes. Some of them requiring very quick changes. However none of them are as quick as that of drag queen Tray Sophisticay, played by James Gillan, whose dress changes from red to white as he walks behind a stage prop. It was so slick that my companion hadn’t even noticed til I pointed it out.
My one criticism of the show itself is that I wanted the finale to be a taste of Jamie’s stage show, an anthemic f**k you to the world.
That said John McCrea as Jamie is surely a new star. I look forward to seeing what he does next.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is at the Apollo Theatre on London’s Shaftsbury Avenue for the foreseeable future.

Full details of booking at



Review by: Paul Towers, 15 March 2018
Roald Dahl’s Matilda by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin
An RSC production directed by Matthew Warchus
Curve until 24 March and then touring

“spectacular, inventive and magical”

Curve is used to producing their own Roald Dahl every Christmas but this time we are privileged to kick off the nationwide tour of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s acclaimed version of this Dahl classic. This musical version opened at the RSC’s spiritual home in Stratford On Avon in 2010 and has since been seen worldwide in various countries but his is the first national tour in this country.
This particular production took up residency in London’s Cambridge Theatre in October 2011.
Matilda is the story of an exceptionally intelligent and gifted young girl who is virtually ignored by her neglectful parents. She gets sent to a local school run by a monstrous headmistress, Agatha Trunchbull and what turns out to be her timid daughter, Miss Honey. Matilda discovers that she can move things with her eyes, telekinetically. This proves useful in her fight to evict the Trunchbull from the school and allow Miss Honey to teach properly.
The original book is a firm favourite with children of all ages with its typical Dahl-esque world where children are capable of so much and adults are either evil or stupid.
This production is spectacular, inventive and magical with very clever music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and funny script by Dennis Kelly. The set, designed by Rob Howell, is a huge arch of building blocks and books; there are further walls of books and blocks that slide in and out while furniture zips across the stage as and when needed. Mention has to be made of the lighting designer, Hugh Vanstone, who helped a lot of the magic happen.
All of this is mind blowing enough but then you have the cast which is made up of half adults and half children. Well, they look like children but the talent they display is very adult. Tonight’s Matilda was Nicola Turner, a precociously talented actor and singer. The adult cast members had to work very hard to keep up!
Immensely funny as Mr & Mrs Wormwood, Matilda’s neglectful parents, were Sebastien Torkia and Rebecca Thornhill, beautifully played as Essex chavs!
Of course the character everyone was waiting to see was the monstrous Agatha Turnbull, here played to great effect by Craige Els as a force of nature charging around the stage abusing children left, right and centre. Particularly impressive were the tricks and magical elements in the show. At one point Trunchbull swings a child around by her pigtails before dropping her to the floor. I have no idea how they achieved that!
Matilda runs at Curve until 24th March 2018 and then tours nationwide (details at Curve is virtually sold out but contact the box office for returns.


The Ministry of Biscuits

Review by: Paul Towers, 09 March 2018
The Foundry Group production
Written by Philip Reeves and Brian Mitchell, starring Murray Simon, Amy Sutton, David Mounfield & Brian Mitchell
Upstairs @ The Western, 9 & 10th March 2018

“an evening of inspired lunacy and improbable madness.”

The Foundry Group are very welcome regular visitors to Upstairs at The Western and this is their fourth visit.
The Ministry of Biscuits was first performed 20 years ago by Nicholas Quirke and others. However, Foundry Group got hold of it and Brian Mitchell rewrote it to accommodate their special gifts of musical and physical comedy. The result is an evening of inspired lunacy and improbable madness.
The show opens with a satirical parody of one of those 1950’s Government information films so beloved of Harry Enfield patchily projected onto a screen. This sets the mood and puts us firmly in the realm of the Ministry of Biscuits, a Government department created to maintain the banality of unadorned biscuits. Enter one Cedric Hobson,a young creative mind determined to drag the biscuit world kicking and screaming into chocolate covered, tastebud overloaded scrumptiousness. To this end he invents the triple chocolate coated ginger cream surprise. This is the crack cocaine of biscuits and the Ministry is determined to stamp it out.
Murray Simon’s creative Cedric Hobson, very like a David Tomlinson or Ian Carmichael in his innocence, is the perfect foil for Brian Mitchell’s Minister, a blustering Raymond Huntley or Arthur Lowe. Filling in the gaps are Amy Sutton and David Mounfield with various other characters.
This brought to mind a Two Ronnies serial; improbably storylines, outrageous characters and all done with straight faces. Huge fun.
This show is filled with original songs and some nifty dancing; and there is nothing funnier than a fat man tripping the light fantastic across the stage!
This performance was only the second date of their tour and, inevitably, things went awry. But such is the professionalism of the company that they embraced the mistakes which just added to the hilarity.
The Ministry of Biscuits is on again on Saturday 10 March. A few tickets are left and are available at Upstairs at The Western’s website
Full details of the nationwide tour can be found at

Upstairs at The Western


The Changing Room/Shooting Truth

 Review by: Paul Towers, 06 March 2018
The Changing Room by Chris Bush and Shooting Truth by Molly Davies
Directed by Paul Rogers & Kieran Vyas respectively
A Made at Curve production in conjunction with National Theatre Connections
Curve Studio  6 – 7 March 2017

“immensely talented youngsters”

This was a double bill of productions under the umbrella of the National Theatre Connections initiative which is one of the UK’s largest celebrations of youth theatre whereby plays are commissioned for and about young people by contemporary playwrights .These plays are then performed in schools and theatre groups all over UK and Ireland by young performers.
The Changing Room was the more contemporary and experimental piece.  Set in and around a swimming pool, the accomplished ensemble cast attempted to vocalise through spoken word and song what it is to be a teenager on the brink of adulthood. Each actor was given a chance to shine with various frustrating moans about being misunderstood. At the same time they were trying to elbow their way into a place in their society. As everyone who has gone through that (and we all did) it is a very confusing phase in life. But, we do all come out the other side and, in retrospect, the angst is worth it.
Each and every one of those on stage gave 100% and, considering this was their first public performance, did a great job.
Shooting Truth was completely different. Taking some inspiration from The Blair Witch Project this was a clever blend of past and present as a school film crew set out to make a movie about a witch called Freya from the 17th century. The present was frequently funny while the past got progressively scary as bigotry reared its ugly head.
As the tale progressed past and present got more and more entangled until they clashed horrifically. Once again the talented cast (completely different from the first piece) were terrific, especially the lad that played the film director.
Again Curve Young Company have proved what an immensely talented young community Curve continues to nurture.

First published on Western Gazette


Jestin' at The Western - March 2018

Review by: Paul Towers, 03 March 2018
Jestin’ at The Western – March 2018
Upstairs @ The Western, 3 March 2018

“laughs all the way.”

March’s edition of the popular stand up try out gig was, of course, disrupted by the weather. But while it was bitter outside it was laughs all the way inside.
Hosted as ever by local hero Dan Nicholas it was a welcome return to Kevin Hudson with a whole set of new material. Renowned for his puns he didn’t disappoint. He does a very amusing line in convoluted Italian phrases along with his trademark shaggy dog stories. A great start to the evening.
Another familiar face was Sarah Johnson with some very funny stuff about her husband and the Winter Olympics (not always exclusive subjects). Why don’t we have a sport of sledging on a tea tray?
Our final act in the first half was Aaron Shipper, an American comedian living in London who regaled us with his observations of cultural differences.
After a short break we were back for the man event of the evening, Jason Neale, who was standing in at very short notice for the headliner who was snowed in.
His act is a dissection of why he is a doormat, a people pleaser. Along the way we were treated to his experiences of being a new Dad and how it has changed his views of his anxiety and lack of confrontation. What makes his especially funny is his ability to back reference not only stuff in his written routines but also the ad lib points he makes with the audience.
The next Jestin’ at The Western is on Saturday 7th April with Tom Taylor headlining

Upstairs at The Western


Something rotten

Review by: Paul Towers, 02 March 2018
Something rotten – written and performed by Robert Cohen
Directed by Jenny Rowe
Upstairs @ The Western, 2 March 2018

“bravura performance”

Those that braved the appalling weather conditions tonight (including Robert Cohen) were treated to a very accessible telling of Hamlet’s uncle Claudius’s version of events.
At times petulant and then grandstanding, this is the turmoil after the old King Hamlet is murdered and his brother seizes the throne of  Denmark and marries his erstwhile sister-in-law. As Claudius addresses his allies and advisors with lots of talk about transitional powers and shaping the future this could almost be a lecture on Brexit!
Robert Cohen’s bravura performance is a series of vignettes whereby Claudius is justifying his actions and planning his ultimate solving of ‘the Hamlet problem’, i.e. his nephew’s attempt to claim the throne.
Written in a style which is understandable to even this Shakespeare-phobe, Cohen has fashioned an entertaining fleshing out of the character of Claudius told in modern English but with Shakespearean echoes enough to sound authentic. Listen carefully and a whole host of  authentic words and phrases from the original play can be spotted.
This is Robert Cohen’s third visit to Upstairs at The Western and the third time he has entertained us with a hugely professional show.
Full details of his current work can be found at
A taste of the show can be found at

Upstairs at The Western
First published on Western Gazette