Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen


The Wipers Times

Review by: Paul Towers, 24 September 2018
The Wipers Times by Ian Hislop & Nick Newman
A Trademark Touring & Watermill Theatre production
Curve – 24 – 29 September 2018

“a wonderfully comic account of the genesis of satirical publishing.”

Gallows humour is the laughs that come from dire circumstances. Funeral Directors are adept at defusing the sadness of their profession with  laughter. So, too, are soldiers, especially those on the battlefield, as was expertly portrayed by the film M*A*S*H.
The Wipers Times is a perfect example of humour being used to offset the horrors of the first world war and the task of surviving another day.
Chancing upon an old manual printing press in amongst the bombed out buildings of  Ypres, Fred Roberts and Jack Pierson, by chance having the services of ex printer Tyler to hand, resolve to utilise the dark humour of their situation and produce a morale boosting newspaper; an outlet for their emotions and a chance to satirise the high command.
Often written in those dark, wet nights between shellings and edited under fire, the prodigious output of the contributors was deemed by the authorities to be subversive and undermining of the war effort. Various commands to shut the paper down were ignored or circumvented and it continued throughout the war.
Ian Hislop and Nick Newman have written a wonderfully comic account of the genesis of satirical publishing. An hilarious mix of narrative, songs and dancing take us through the almost non-stop barrage of gunfire as the paper is compiled.
The Wipers Times paper got a fleeting name-check in the film Oh What A Lovely War and the favour is returned with fantasy sequences in homage to that show.
The wonderful programme on sale at Curve is created as a spoof copy of The Wipers Times with satirical poems, advertisements and stories.
A tight cast of 10 are lead by James Dutton and George Kemp as Roberts & Pierson. The set, designed by Dora Schweitzer, is effectively complimented by the sound and lighting effects of Steve Mayo and James Smith to recreate the appalling conditions of a Ypres trench.
The Wipers Times is on tour until December
Full details on

First published on Western Gazette


Speaking After Dinner

Review by: Paul Towers, Thursday, 20 September 2018
Speaking After Dinner
Jack Campbell
Upstairs @ The Western, 20 Sept 2018

“2 hours of  comedy.”

Tonight, scheduled as Speaking After Dinner with Jack Campbell & Matt Hollins, was replaced at the last minute by Jack Campbell and Friends when Matt went down with some sort of sickness. Get well soon Mr Hollins.
Jack Campbell MC’d the evening and kicked off with a some skilful audience interaction to warm us up on a stormy Leicester night.
Stepping into the breach were Lovdev Barpaga with a stream of one liners, some new, some old. Lovdev specialises in puns and is the current reigning UK Pun Champion. His set elicited the requisite groans and laughs from an appreciative audience.
Next up was Upstairs’s resident comedy workshop tutor, Jason Neale with the tale of a disappointing visit to Twycross Zoo with his 2 year old for the first time. His style is a casual ramble through a personal experience. Hilarious.
After the interval Jack Campbell was back with his experiences on being obsessed with the Wii and golfing.
Danny Clives was a new face to me and had a very self deprecating way of illustrating his perceived shortcomings while trying desperately to get a girlfriend
Finally there was Freddie Ferrell, a self proclaimed fat bearded bloke who still can’t believe he has found the love of his life (apart from Big Macs)
This was 2 hours of  comedy work in progress and more than worth the £5 entrance fee

Upstairs at The Western
First published on Western Gazette



Review by: Paul Towers, 18 September 2018
Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber & TS Eliot
Leicester Theatre Group presentation
Little Theatre 18 – 22nd September 2018

“hugely talented cast with the confidence of a professional troupe.”

Leicester Theatre Group is a Newfoundpool based non-profit organisation created to provide young people aged 11 to 18 with the opportunity to get involved in musical theatre and perform in one of their regular West End style productions, usually at The Little Theatre or the Sue Townsend Theatre. Last year they did Les Miserables and this year it is the turn of Cats.
A huge cast of 42 bring TS Eliot’s tales of Jellicle Cats to life on a set designed by Neil Allan that resembles a derelict yard. Ranged round the back is slatted fencing which cleverly allows the various kittens and cats to roam up and down the gantries behind giving the illusion  of a community of feral felines.
Director Zoe Curlett is an experienced West End performer and brings a mainstream sensibility to the production. Like Bob Fosse, Gillian Lynne’s style of choreography is instantly identifiable and Jessica Vaughan has wisely not deviated far from the original.
In such a large production there is plenty of room for individuals to shine and Maev Wood’s Grizabella singing Memories broke everyone’s heart.
This hugely talented cast danced and sang with the confidence of a professional troupe.
Cats is at The Little Theatre until Saturday 22nd September but is sold out. Call the box office for any returns.

First published on Western Gazette
A version of this review was broadcast on TakeOver Radio


Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Review by: Paul Towers, 12 September 2018
Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Richard & Robert Sherman, book by Jeremy Sams
A Leicester Amateur Operatic Society production
Haymarket Theatre 11 – 15 September 2018

“a spectacularly successful evening’s entertainment”

The Leicester Amateur Operatic Society (LAOS) has a reputation stretching back to 1890 for putting on professional quality shows using amateur performers. Their back catalogue covers a wide range of classics and modern shows. This year’s production, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, took to the stage in the West End in 2003 and on Broadway in 2005. The touring version ran from 2015 to 2017.
Based on the 1968 film this musical is the story of a single dad bringing up two children and home schooling them alongside their grandfather. The children persuade him to buy a wreck of a car that they have been playing with in a neighbour’s back yard. This turns out to be a somewhat famous old racing car which, unbeknownst to them, possesses magical powers. This is why the evil Baron Bombast wants it. Caractacus, the children, grandpa and Truly Scrumptious join forces to defeat the Baron, evade the Child Catcher and free the children of the kingdom.
Unexpectedly written by James Bond creator Ian Fleming and originally filmed by James Bond auteur Cubby Broccoli it was adapted for the screen by Roald Dahl (no surprise there).
As expected LAOS fielded a strong cast led by Darryl Clarke as an energetic Caractacus Potts, Nicole Webb as Truly Scrumptious with Harry Rooney and Rosie Oldman as the children. The scene stealer of the night was Rory, playing Edison the dog. Of course the outright star of the night is the car. And yes it does fly
With loads of sets, lots of back drops and a huge cast of 45 you would expect this to be a spectacularly successful evening’s entertainment. While the cast sing and dance up a storm; the sets are wheeled on and off mostly without too much noise. However all the hard work of the cast and crew was spoiled by an appallingly bad and inefficient sound system. All the way through the production the sound either cut out, faded down or blasted out feedback. The providers of the audio system should be ashamed of themselves. All credit should go to the cast who carried on without missing a beat. Professional performers in every way. Hopefully these problems can be rectified.

First published on Western Gazette


Strictly Ballroom The Musical

Review by: Paul Towers, 5/9/18
Strictly Ballroom The Musical by Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce
A Leeds Playhouse production directed by Drew McOnie
Piccadilly Theatre London until October 27th 2018

“the highest of camp and makes BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing look dowdy”

Anyone who remembers the 1992 film by Baz Luhrmann will be in no doubt about what to expect of his stage version. Imagine the result if Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was crossed with Everybody’s Talking About Jamie but with added feathers, sequins  and tulle. You would be going some way towards what is on the stage of The Piccadilly Theatre.
This show is the highest of camp and makes BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing look dowdy. All the girls look like drag queens. All the guys look like drag queens out of drag. It is huge fun with tons of laughs and a soundtrack of  familiar tunes shoe horned into the storyline with scant regard for chronology. But who cares?
The MC is the person who keeps everything under control (sort of) and sings most of the songs as he moves the narrative along. Usually this is played by Matt Cardle but on the Wednesday matinee I went his understudy, Justin-Lee Jones, was on and a very good job he did too. Two ladies sat behind me who had seen the show several times opined that he was the best yet.
Several of the characters have obviously been modelled on people we know. Les Kendall, played by Richard Grieve, is very much a Donald Trump caricature. Ken Railings, Gary Watson, was a high camp parody of Bob Downe (if there is such a thing) and Charlotte Gooch as Tina Sparkle was very like Kath & Kim, all screechy Aussie vowels.
The two leads were played by Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen, both known for their dancing skills. However this show stretches them further than ever and they both rise to the occasion splendidly with a wide range of dance styles and some impressive pasodoble footwork ably instructed by Fernado Mira’s Rico
A great supporting ensemble camp it up as Scott Hastings (Labey) throws the world of Australian ballroom dancing into chaos with his innovative dancing. Cue feather, sequins and ball gowns aplenty as they swirl across the floor.
The Piccadilly Theatre is a slightly jaded building packed into the space behind Shaftsbury Avenue. The Royal Circle has a rake so steep you almost need crampons; the seats are so low you are in danger of getting DVT and the velveteen is desperately in need of replacement. That said, the staff are very welcoming and helpful while the bar prices are no worse than any other West End theatre