Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen


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