Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

30/10/2019

In a village near a forest


Review by: Paul Towers, 30/10/19
In a village near a forest by ‘Funmi Adewole
Performed by ‘Funmi Adewole
Upstairs @ The Western, 30th October 2019

“‘Funmi Adewole is a storyteller, a relater of parables.”

‘Funmi Adewole is a storyteller, a relater of parables especially those from Lagos in Nigeria. The stories themselves are mythical, simplistic tales meant to teach those less well educated in a way that they can relate to. Much like religious tracts they are not literal but fairy tales wrapped round truths.
Adewole uses much physicality as she fills the stage with characters.
Her method of storytelling would be absolutely ideal for middle school children, especially those in an African and Afro Caribbean community.
Tonight we had tales of tortoises, greedy rich people and avaricious housewives, all hiding a lesson in life.
This my last visit to Upstairs at The Western after six plus years. New management has taken the venue in a new direction and I no longer feel I can give an objective view of forthcoming productions.

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

28/10/2019

Priscilla Queen of the Desert


Review by: Paul Towers, 28/10/19
Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical by Stephen Ellliot and Allan Scott
A Mark Groucher, Jason Donovan, Gavin Kalin, Matthew Gale & Laurence Myers production with Nullarbor Productions & MGM on Stage
Curve 28 Oct to 2 Nov 2019

“a first rate cast and a joyous soundtrack”

When the original film opened in cinemas in 1994 it was a low budget Australian picture celebrating drag queens. Coming as it did right at the beginning of the resurgence in drag shows in the wake of such cult classics as Victor/Victoria, La Cage Aux Folles and Torch Song Trilogy and of course the iniquitous RuPaul of Drag Race fame, originally a disco singer.
The premise of the film, and ultimately of all subsequent stage versions, is how two drag queens and a post op transsexual embark on a journey right into the centre of Australia aboard a rickety old bus, the titular Priscilla. Their adventures along the way bring them into contact with some very red-necked, bigoted, isolated communities along with some surprisingly tolerant indigenous peoples.
The film benefited from soaring vistas filmed from helicopters and smart editing of multiple costumes.
I saw a touring production in 2014 and it was, to be charitable, rather mundane. This current version is anything but. A huge number of costumes keep the dressers rushed off their feet as the ensemble swap characters at an amazing rate. Then we come to the main characters. Many of the musical numbers are either provided by or enhanced by the Three Divas (Rosie Glossop, Claudia Kariuki and Aiesha Pease) whose Supremes-like vocals soar above the rest of the cast.
Of course the main characters Tick/Mitzi (Joe McFadden), Bernadette (Miles Western) and Felicia/Adam (Nick Hayes) drive the story along. Tick is conflicted by the sudden knowledge that a drunken mistake in his past has provided him with a son; Bernadette has just lost the love of his life (well, at least for this year) and Felicia/Adam just wants an adventure. It is Adam who persuades his mother to finance the trip and they naively set out from Sidney for the great outdoors.
The leads are massively supported by an ensemble of 12 amazing dancers/singers/actors who switch from drag queens to rednecks in a matter of seconds, or so it seems. Choreographer Tom Jackson Greaves has created a lively, energetic background to compliment the action while director Ian Talbot handles some of the more un-stageable elements with aplomb. Kudos have to go the designers, Charles Cusick-Smith, Phil R Daniles and Richard Weeden, for a very adaptable set and an amazing bus.
The production is packed with 80’s songs, some familiar from the film, others not so much. The Abba continuum from the movie has been replaced with Kylie references and songs.
This version has West End production values, a first rate cast and a joyous soundtrack to send you out into a cold winter night with a spring in your step.

Curve – https://curveonline.co.uk
First published on Western Gazette







25/10/2019

Boar


Review by: Paul Towers, 25/10/19
Boar by Lewis Doherty
A co-production by Lewis Doherty, The North Wall and Nottingham Playhouse
Curve – 25 October 2019

“set in the incredibly imaginative world of Dungeons and Dragons”

Theatre is all about imagination, imagining a story before your very eyes. Belief has to be suspended and you should be drawn into the world that is being created. The very best theatrical story tellers can  perform this miracle without impressive scenery, without multiple costumes and without lots of props. Lewis Doherty is an up and coming exponent of this genre.
I was really impressed by Doherty’s show, Wolf, last week and didn’t  think he would be able to top it. But, by taking his material in a different direction he has topped it.
Boar is set in the incredibly imaginative world of Dungeons and Dragons and, yes, there are dragons and dungeons along with a multitude of characters all conjured up by a single actor, the very talented Lewis Doherty, on a bare stage with just a clever soundtrack and incredible lighting.
The story is the old old tale of a princess captured by a dragon and an aging king desperate for her to be rescued. However, maybe taking a little inspiration from Shrek, there are loads of incidental characters contributing to the narrative, many slotted in purely to raise a laugh. This production is huge fun with many laugh out loud moments and plenty of amazing sound/light/vocal effects.
I loved the way Doherty came full circle and referenced Wolf in the final minutes of the show.
This was a great way to spend 60 minutes escaping from a damp and dismal Friday night.
I am really looking forward to seeing what Lewis Doherty comes up with next.
Full details of future performances can be found on his website.

http://www.lewisdoherty.com
Curve – https://curveonline.co.uk
First published on Western Gazette

22/10/2019

A Taste of Honey


Review by: Paul Towers, 22/10/19
A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney
A National Theatre production directed by Bijan Sheibani
Curve 22 – 26 October 2019

“still very relevant today”

Surprisingly Shelagh Delaney wrote her first play, A Taste of Honey, in 1958 at the age of just 19. Right up until her death in 2011 her output was prodigious encompassing stage, film, TV and radio. However nothing really outshone her debut and it is still very relevant today even though it sometimes suffers from being lumped in with the Angry Young Men and kitchen sink dramas of the period.
The current production, while still set ‘up north’ is firmly based in Salford in the 50’s. Poverty and deprivation abound and Helen (Jodie Prenger making a welcome return to Leicester’s Curve) is a blousy single mother with a very erratic sense of parenting; her daughter Jo (Gemma Dobson) fights with her tooth and nail and, at 18, repeats her mother’s mistake and gets pregnant with a sweet talking black sailor, Jimmie (Durone Stokes) who subsequently abandons her. Her salvation is gay friend Geoffrey (Stuart Thompson making his professional theatre debut) who sees her through her pregnancy despite the abuse heaped on him by Helen’s boyfriend Peter (Tom Varey). The script is scattered with racism and homophobia as was prevalent at the time.
Prenger, as expected, grabs her role of the dissolute mother and runs with it, tearing up the scenery when needed and proving she is way more than the musical theatre star we all know.
The script highlights the abject poverty so many lived in at the time but it is laced with lots of laughs. Some of the lines are almost Wildean.
Director Bijan Sheibani has taken a creative decision to put a live musical trio of piano, bass and drums onstage and these provide the backing for the various scene changes which are creatively choreographed in a half light. Every time a new character was introduced they sang a bit of a song which defined the character.
The set was an appropriately gloomy, moody, grey jumble of pillars and walls. As virtually all the action takes place within the cockroach infested flat it just needs the furniture to be moved around to suggest the passing of time.
A Taste Of Honey is at Curve until Saturday 26th October and then continues to tour until it hits London at Christmas. Details at https://tinyurl.com/y53hjnt5

Curve http://curveonline.co.uk
First published on Western Gazette














18/10/2019

Wolf

Review by: Paul Towers, 18/10/19
Wolf by Lewis Doherty
A Lewis Doherty & The Northwall presentation
Curve – 18/10/19

“an amazing one-man play spoofing American cop shows”

Patrick Wolf is a cop. A cop on a mission. A mission to get revenge for his partner Jay Walker’s death. The streets of Shadow City won’t be safe til he finds the murderer.
Actor, writer, comedian and extraordinary actor Lewis Doherty is a local lad from Nottingham and has created an amazing one-man play spoofing American cop shows. With just a black stage and a stool he populates his world with more than 30 characters.
From the moment he walked into one of Curve’s intimate rehearsal studios Doherty had the audience in the palm of his hand. Murder, mayhem, cyborgs and a multitude of  instantly recognisable characters took us deep into his fantastical tale of a good cop’s pursuit of truth. His very physical performance, along with an uncanny ability to create sound effects, drew us into the mean streets of Shadow City.
An atmospheric soundtrack of music and sound effects are seamlessly bound to his on stage antics as we follow fights and car chases around the city and up and down multi storey buildings with humour and tenacity.
Doherty doesn’t make his hero too serious and regularly allows the audience into his self awareness of parody.
Some of the characters we meet are sometimes only a sentence or two long but Doherty makes each one fully rounded. Some of his elaborate vocal effects and physicality were reminiscent of Jim Carrey’s The Mask. High praise indeed.
While Wolf was only on for one night as part of Curve’s New Work Festival Boar, the companion piece, is on next Friday, 25th October, and is not to be missed.
The New Work Festival runs at Curve til 26th October and features performances from new artistes along with various support workshops. Full details are on the website.

http://www.lewisdoherty.com/
Curve – https:curveonline.co.uk
First published on Western Gazette

17/10/2019

Ruby and Cedar


Review by: Paul Towers, 17/10/19
Ruby and Cedar by Alison Dunne
A Fishhouse Theatre presentation
Upstairs @ The Western, 17 & 18 October 2019

“Where were you when man first stood on the moon?”

Fishhouse Theatre is the new in-house theatre company at Upstairs at The Western and Alison Dunne is one of the lead directors of the company and an accomplished playwright.
On the 20th July 1969 man first set foot on the moon. However, before that could happen both America and USSR launched several orbiting space missions. Probably the most memorable astronaut was Russia’s Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. His best friend was also a cosmonaut, called Komarov. Together they had code names of Ruby and Cedar.
Thousands of miles away two sisters are brought up in the West Midlands and also called Ruby and Cedar. Not entirely surprisingly these sister grew up obsessed with space and astronauts. As they bickered and fought their way into adulthood they resolved to meet up every year on the anniversary of the inaugural moon landing.
Alison Dunne’s poignant play sets the story of the girls’ growing up against the narrative of the flawed initial Soyuz mission.
Therese Collins as Cedar and Blue Merrick as Ruby beautifully play the bickering but ultimately fiercely loyal siblings as they choose separate career and lifestyle paths. With changes of lighting and accents the pair also play various Russians and Americans as the story unfolds.
Ruby and Cedar plays at Upstairs at The Western again on Friday, which is lucky as Thursday was sold out, and continues the tour it started in June 2019. Details on Fishhouse Theatre’s Facebook page.

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

15/10/2019

Cabaret


Review by: Paul Towers, 15/10/19
Cabaret by Joe Masteroff, music & lyrics by John Kander & Fred Ebb
A Bill Kenwright presentation
Curve 15 – 19 October 2019

“an eye popping re-imagining of  this 1966 musical standard

First off completely forget the Liza Minelli film. While the songs are roughly the same the story is infinitely darker and more brutal.
It’s 1931 Germany, as the second world war creeps closer and the Nazis are gaining ground in Berlin, their jackboots squashing the Jews and gays.
At the infamous Kit Kat Klub the decadent and debauched patrons are still partying like nothing was happening. Sally Bowles, legendary English singer, is taking to the stage with her raucous routines compered by the outrageous Emcee, ringmaster to this nightly exhibition of hedonistic indulgence. In walks naïve American novelist Cliff who immediately embraces the excesses available. Taking a room at Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house he suddenly finds himself with a not completely unwelcome room and bed mate, Sally.
Director Rufus Norris, of the National Theatre, has worked with  designer Katrina Lindsay to create an eye popping look to this re-imagining of  the 1966 musical standard. Forget the Hollywood schmaltz of the 1972 film this goes back to the early book and we get a very gritty, satirical vision of pre-war Germany
John Partridge as the Emcee is a revelation. Highly camp but with a vicious edge, he is the ringmaster of all the fun-poking at the Nazis’ expense. He whips the audience up into the mood for fun in the cabaret club, only for the reality of the outside world to bring us down to earth again.
Partridge is very well supported by Kara Lily Hayworth as Sally Bowles, back at Curve after her show stopping performance as Cilla Black a year ago. Charles Hagerty as Cliff, the naïve American, has returned to the role after touring with it in 2017. Fraulein Schneider is played by the legendry Anita Harris (somehow aged for the part). The ensemble, fantastic dancers well served by Javier De Frutos’ amazing choreography, play lots of minor roles as well as being scene shifters and absolutely outrageous acolytes to the Emcee. The live band at the back of the stage gives depth and immediacy to the whole evening.
There are still tickets available for the rest of the run but do bear in mind that, due to some nudity, it is only really suitable for over 14s


Curve – https://curveonline.co.uk
First published on Western Gazette










12/10/2019

Trade


Review by: Paul Towers, 12/10/19
Trade by debbie tucker green  (her specified lack of capitalisation)
A New Perspectives production
Upstairs @ The Western, 12 October 2019

“three women share a surprising connection.”

debbie tucker green is a multi award winning writer and director for film, theatre, TV and radio.
Trade was originally staged by the RSC in 2005 and tackles the unusual subject of sex tourism from a female perspective.
Three disparate women meet on a beach in the Caribbean and, as opinionated people do, talk over each other, lord it over each other and argue their sides.
The Regular woman, Gracy Goldman, holidays to the same place every year; the Local woman, Sharla Smith, is a local woman who plies her trade of hair braiding to tourists on the beach; the Novice woman, Rachel Summers, is a young Londoner who has saved all year for a possibly once-in-a-lifetime holiday of sun, sea and sex.
As the sniping and jostling for social position continues it emerges that all three share a surprising connection that levels them
With uncompromising language and, at times, difficult to understand accents, the story of the three women unfolds.

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

Torch Song


Review by: Paul Towers, 10/10/19
Torch Song by Harvey Fierstein
A Bill Kenwright & Paul Mills production
Turbine Theatre, London 22 Aug – 13 October 2019

“Matthew Needham’s Arnold is an explosive bundle of regret, pain and frustration”

Torch Song Trilogy has long been a favourite go-to film of mine if I am happy or sad. It can lift me whatever my mood with its clever blend of uplifting life-affirming comedic lines or it can bring on the tears that are waiting behind the silver lining of every cloud.
Written in 1978 this is an amalgamation of three short plays, The International Stud, Fugue in a  Nursery & Widows and Children First, brought together as a 3 act play in its own right.
Set in 1970’s Manhattan Arnold Beckoff is a Jewish, gay drag queen and torch singer. He has a fractious relationship with his mother who constantly complains about being shut out of his life while simultaneously recoiling when he does share with her. Arnold’s love life is a lurch from one inappropriate man to another until he finds ‘the one’, only to lose him in a street fight.
As Arnold, Matthew Needham grabs the role by the throat and runs with it from the off. The opening monologue, almost word for word the same as the film, establishes Arnold as the neurotic, dramatic artiste that he is. Ed, Dino Fetscher, is the bisexually conflicted out-of-towner who Arnold puts up with in the end, mainly because adopted son David, Jay Lycurgo, gets on with him so well. Alan, Rish Shah, is the perfect boyfriend who he gets himself killed. Then we come to Arnolds most consistent and aggravating person in his life. His Mother, Bernice Stegers. Their conflict and arguments mask their innate love for each other as they try and work out a way to be a part of each others’ lives.
It has to be said that virtually every single gloriously camp and bitchy one-liner from the film is transferred to the stage (or is it vice versa?). Aficionados of the movie will not feel short changed. The gags may not be in the same place or come from the same characters but they are mostly there.
Matthew Needham’s Arnold is an explosive bundle of regret, pain and frustration, especially with Arnold’s mother, Bernice Stegers, with whom he has some outstanding rows.
The set is a simple one and is so well designed that shifting from backstage to Arnold’s apartment is done smoothly and quickly without holding up the action.
This is The Turbine Theatre’s inaugural production and they have chosen well as it is sold out for the remains of the run (only til tomorrow unfortunately).
My only criticisms of the venue is that it is built under railway arches and trains rumble past every few minutes. Needham very early on makes a joke in character about the noise. The other problem they have is the location; it is a rather long walk from the nearest station although when you finally get there it is to find a little village of restaurants and bars.

Turbine Theatre https://tinyurl.com/y54dhy7m
http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/




11/10/2019

Falsettos


Review by: Paul Towers, 10/10/196
Falsettos by Wiiliam Finn & James Lapine, music & lyrics by William Finn
A Selladoor Worldwide production
The Othe Palace, London until 23 November 2019

“funny, musical and energetic.”

This musical has had an unusual gestation. Way back in 1979 it started as a one act piece, Trousers, about Marvin who is struggling with his sexuality and wondering how to embrace being gay while still having a wife and child.
In 1981 William Finn added two more chapters to Marvin’s life, his family and friends. And so Falsettos was born.
Marvin (Daniel Boys) was married to Trina (Laura Pitt-Pulford) with a 10 year old son, Jason (on my visit played by Albert Atack). As the show opens the two adults are trying to arrange their son’s Bar Mitzvah, something Jason isn’t keen on. To try and make sense of his life Marvin, as so many Americans do, sees a therapist, Mendel (Joel Montague). Marvin’s on/off boyfriend, Whizzer (Oliver Savile) further complicates things by becoming a significant influence in young Jason’s life and thus ‘becoming part of the family’
It is very obvious that Finn was inspired by Stephen Sondheim in the way he wrote the show. It is all sung with no dialogue although in this case Finn doesn’t display quite the lyrical dexterity of Sondheim.
The set is an inventive series of boxes that slide out of the back to form beds, tables, chairs and seats. Very classy. Around the set is a series of picture frames onto which are projected all sorts of graphics to suggest domesticity and medical institutions.
While the whole cast are exceptional especial mention has to go to the fabulous scene stealing talents of young Albert Atack as Jason, a pure voice attached to an ability to do physical comedy. That boy will go far. The show stopping moment for me was Laura Pitt-Pulford’s ‘I’m Breaking Down’ as Trina tries to come to terms with her complicated emotions.
This is a funny, musical and energetic show about unconventional families set in America as the AIDS crisis really took hold.
This was my first visit to the Other Palace, a small studio style theatre space with nice highly raked seating so everyone can see everything. It has friendly staff and a very pleasant bar as part of the venue.

The Other Palace https://www.falsettoslondon.com/
http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/




04/10/2019

Christmas 2019 Fare in Leicester


Christmas 2019 Fare in Leicester’s Theatres

As usual Curve is serving up a pair of theatrical delights for both adults and children this December. First up is West Side Story (23 Nov – 11 Jan). Based loosely on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet Curve’s own Nikolai Foster is directing with Ellen Kane choreographing. This show is packed full of memorable songs and high energy dancing. Exactly what Leicester needs in a cold wet winter. Contact the Box Office for various special performances for dementia sufferers and other disabled audience members.
Next door in the studio Curve has not forgotten those bored children through the winter months and welcomes a production of Giraffe’s Can’t Dance (9 Dec – 31 Dec). This is a co-production between Curve, their regular co-production partners Rose Theatre, Kingston and Simon Friend. There is a special relaxed performance on 28 December at 4.30pm with a Touch Tour available. Contact the Box Office for full details.
Upstairs at The Western - www.upstairsatthewestern.com
Leicester’s only pub theatre’s inaugural season under new management continues to provide a wide range of entertainment at around the £10 per seat price. December this year includes the usual regulars like Uncle Armando (11th Dec), Drag Queen Bingo (7th Dec), Find The Right Words (18th Dec) and Rhymes Against Humanity (20th Dec). Slotted inbetween are such gems as Fitting (4th Dec) a tale of a transgender magician, I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues (5th Dec) a story of women singing the Blues and Kevin King of Egypt (12-13 Dec) Rob Gee’s tale of surviving mental health services.
Leicester’s hidden jewel of a theatre, The Y, is situated opposite the train station and has a wide range of shows and performances on all year round. Obviously December is a festive themed programme of one nighters featuring Christmas Carols, Yuletide Cabaret and even a pantomime (Jack’s Giant Adventure on 21st Dec). Other attractions include a comedy night (Scrummy Mummies on 1st Dec), The Peacock Lounge Burlesque and Cabaret Night on 7th Dec and The Wizard of Oz Ballet on 14th Dec.
All in all there are plenty of  excuses to get inside and out of the cold without venturing too far from home.