18 July 2024

Hello Dolly 2024


Review by Paul Towers, 17/7/24

Hello Dolly book by Michael Stewart, music 7 lyrics by Jerry Herman

Directed by Dominic Cooke

Produced by Michael Harrison

At London Palladium until 14th September 2024

OMG what a show!

I originally booked tickets for Imelda Staunton’s Hello Dolly way back in 2020. Sadly Covid put paid to that and the production was further delayed because Ms Staunton was giving her regal best as HM in The Crown. Thankfully, four years on, I have had my dreams realised and I sat expectantly in a full house matinĂ©e in London’s Palladium theatre waiting for the curtain to rise.

The orchestra started the overture, a great traditional run through of all the tunes from the show. Then the curtain rose to the tiny figure of Dolly Levi sat at her dressing table readying herself for the tasks ahead. As the opening number of Just Leave Everything To Me builds the tabs fly back and the full spectacle of the production is unveiled.

Dolly Levi is a force of nature, she is a fixer. It doesn’t matter what you want or need fixing Dolly knows a man who can. But her main talent is matchmaking in the days long before dating apps.

Imelda Staunton’s Dolly Levi is a whirlwind of meddling as she seems to be everywhere and everything to everyone. She has her sights set on remarriage and the object of her attention is grumpy misogynist Horace Vandergelder (Andy Nyman) half millionaire owner of a Hay & Feed Store. As part of her plan to ‘force’ Horace to fall in love with her she is off to New York and the Harmonia Gardens to woo him, the best place to be seen in the city.

Meanwhile Horace’s clerks, Cornelius (Harry Hepple) and Barnaby (Tyrone Huntly - I last saw as Che in Curve’s Evita) are desperate to find girlfriends and are encouraged by Dolly to skive off to New York as well. Along the way the boys do indeed find girlfriends, Irene Molly (Jenna Russell) and Minnie Fay (Emily Lane) respectively.

This is a big, lavish production as only the London Palladium can do. A huge live orchestra of 22 is hidden under the stage and gives a full sound to the show. Choreographer Bill Deamer has the good luck to work with a very talented ensemble of dancers while Comedy Director Toby Park finds laughs right from the start.

Amazingly the show doesn’t officially open until 18th July but the previews were sold out.

This production of such a well loved show will not disappoint. While the film version was overpowered by Streisand’s grandstanding performance this is a well balanced staging with Ms Staunton, while giving a stella performance, not overwhelming the overall show.

This is a limited run so get tickets while you can.




02 July 2024

The Darling Buds of May


Review by Paul Towers, 1/7/24

The Darling Buds of May by HE Bates

Directed by Mary Jones

Produced by Leicester Drama Society

At The Little Theatre until Saturday 6th July 2024

When I first left school I worked on a farm in Kent as a labourer. As I lived on-site in a caravan there was very little to occupy me in the evening. However one of my pleasures was to immerse myself in H E Bates’ bucolic stories of Kentish farm life. While my day-to-day struggles against the weather were nothing like the eternal summer of the Lakins, the stories did resonate with me.

The Darling Buds of May (the title taken from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18) was written in 1958 after author HE Bates saw a large family emerging from an ice cream shop while on holiday. Their rumbustious joy in each others company inspired him to create the Larkin family. Ma, Pop and their six children live in an idyllic rural world that most of us could only dream of.

Darling Buds tells the story of how the family inveigle junior Tax Inspector, Cedric Charlton (new member of LDS, Harry Wheeler) to ditch his stressful office job and embrace the freewheeling countryside way of life. Of course it is a much easier decision when he falls in love with the eldest Larkin girl, Mariette (Laura Heybrock), whose sultry flirting captures him as surely as a spider ensnares a fly.

Pop (Andy Longley-Brown) is a loveable rogue operating way under the radar of the tax man while Ma (another new member of LDS, Zara Cain) is the larger-than-life matriarch of the clan and definitely the wearer of the Larkin trousers. As head of the family there is great chemistry between the parents as they look after their brood.

The set by Jake Smart is both the family dining room and the garden gate leading to the wonders of the bluebell wood.

If you want to escape from the current less than summery weather you can do no better than escaping to the Larkin’s Garden of England at The Little Theatre until Saturday 6 July.

Pics: Dave Morris Photography




26 June 2024

Singin' In The Rain


Review by Paul Towers, 25/6/24

Singin’ In The Rain, screenplay by Betty Comden & Adolph Green, songs by Nacio Herb Brown & Arthur Freed

Directed and Choreographed by Lee Proud

Produced by Celia Mackay

At Kilworth House until 28th July 2024

What can be more perfect than sitting out in the open air on a hot, sticky summer evening watching the ultimate Hollywood musical, Singin’ In The Rain? The classic movie is 72 years old this year and the 1983 stage version faithfully follows the original as far as possible. And yes, it does rain onstage. So beware if you are in the front couple of rows.

The show is a crowd-pleasing mix of comedy, romance and, of course, spectacular dancing. The original choreography by Gene Kelly has not been lost and Lee Proud has adapted it to fit the stage.

Set in the 1920’s just as Talkies were making silent movies redundant, Singin’ is the story of how the industry adapted. Don Lockwood (Jack Wilcox) and Lina Lamont (Jess Buckby) are the golden couple of silent romantic movies even though Don has no interest in Lina beyond work. When Don bumps into an aspiring actress, Kathy Selden (Lucie-Mae Sumner) and falls for her Lina’s jealousy rises to the surface. Cosmo Brown (Alastair Crosswell) is Don’s best friend and off-screen pianist as well as his cabaret dance partner. Don, Lina and Cosmo are happily churning out romantic movies until Talking Pictures arrive and suddenly they have to adapt. Unfortunately Lina has the most awful speaking voice so it is decided to dub her voice with Kathy’s. (This reflects actual events at the time when multiple actors lost their careers when their voices didn’t match their faces).

The show is packed with hummable songs as well as great comedy numbers. Alastair Crosswell’s Cosmo Brown provides a lot of the comedy, very capably channelling Donald O’Connor’s filmic original. Jack Wilcox’s Don Lockwood has the matinee idol’s good looks and has a good rapport with Crosswell as a double act.

Jess Buckby’s Lina Lamont is perfect as the screeching, foul mouthed ditzy blonde forever deluding herself she is in love with Lockwood.

The ensemble of various characters and dancers give great support. The set by Simon Wells becomes a veritable wet room at the end of each half as the on-stage heavens open and a deluge soaks the cast. Wilcox’s Lockwood has great fun splashing around in the titular song, like a toddler jumping in puddles.

Running for several weeks until 28th July Singin’ In The Rain at Kilworth Hall is what summer is made for. Treat yourself and wander out through the fairytale woodland at the end of the evening humming at least a couple of memorable songs.




11 June 2024

Table Manners


Review by Paul Towers, 10/6/24

Table Manners by Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by Russell Hughes

Produced by Leicester Drama Society

At The Little Theatre until Saturday 15th June 2024

“Hilarious goings-on behind suburban curtains”

Table Manners is one part of the trilogy that is The Norman Conquests by Alan Aykbourn. The premise of the plays is that the same action is seen from three different aspects in three different rooms. Table Manners takes place in the dining room around the dining table.

Annie lives in a large suburban house caring for her demanding bedridden Mother. She has planned an illicit weekend in East Grinstead with Norman, her sister Ruth’s charming husband while her brother Reg and his wife Sarah are coming to look after Mother while she is away. Added to the melee is gormless Tom, Annie’s vet and wannabe lover.

Norman, anxious to rekindle the romp on the lounge carpet he had with Annie, has turned up early to collect her and but has stumbled into a family assembly. As the penny drops and Annie’s plans are revealed all hell breaks out.

Hollie Matusiewicz’s Annie is a perfect combination of fragility and loneliness as she wonders whether to go through with betraying her sister Ruth. Allan Smith’s Norman is a clown with an ulterior purpose. If he can’t laugh the ladies into bed he will charm them. The only person immune to his charms is his wife, career obsessed Ruth. (a fabulously demanding Tabz Fogg). But for sheer bitchiness there is nothing to beat Emma Bamford’s Sarah, a snobby Margo Leadbetter clone in equally garish outfits, while her put upon husband Reg (Freddie Dobrijevic) does his best to stand up to her, occasionally. Wandering around hoping that Annie will finally notice him is local vet Tom (Graham Muir).

With no-one really knowing exactly what is going on there is much confusion. This leads the hilarity of the play and the audience was laughing from start to finish.

So, if you find the pretentious snobbery and illicit goings on in suburbia hilarious then Table Manners is definitely for you. It runs at The Little Theatre until Saturday 15th June.

Pics: Mary Jayne Harding Scott




31 May 2024

Sauna Boy


Review by Paul Towers, 30/5/24

Sauna Boy written & performed by Dan Ireland-Reeves

At Stage Door Theatre until 1st June 2024

I first saw Dan Ireland-Reeves’ work back in 2018. His one man play, Bleach, was an uncompromising look into the world of rent boys. His latest show is similarly in your face and is a semi-autobiographical delve into the hidden world of gay saunas.

Set in a fictional south coast sauna (fictional for legal reasons), this one man show lifts the lid on the place where men from all walks of life come to relax, socialise and ……

Everybody from young twinky virgins to seasoned older men come through the doors and each has a story to tell.

Dan Ireland-Reeves deftly switches from character to character, from voice to voice with barely a swish of his hand as each of his (fictional, remember) punters and co-workers play their part in his story.

With broad adult language, as is to be expected from those who flock to this sex club, and partial nudity (Ireland-Reeves’ pert bum gets a good airing) this is not for the faint hearted.

Having toured around the world this show is ending its 2024 run with another show at Stage Door Theatre this weekend, an outing in Southampton and a last few performances in Birmingham in July. All dates are on his website.




18 May 2024

Bonnie and Clyde


Review by Paul Towers, 17/5/24

Bonnie & Clyde by Ivan Menchell, lyrics by Don Black, music by Frank Wildhorn

Directed & choreographed by Nick Winston  

Produced by Adama Entertainment

Theatre Royal Nottingham until Saturday 18 May 2024 and then touring

We all know the broad outline of the story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, outlaws who shone brightly and briefly before being shot down in a blaze of infamy the same way as Thelma & Louise or Butch Cassidy and The Sunshine Kid.

This is a musical version of the story previously told in many forms over the years, most notably in the 1967 film with Warren Beatty and Fay Dunaway.

20 year old Bonnie Parker (Katie Tonkinson) scrapes a living in a diner in Depression hit 1930 America when she meets 20 year old Clyde Barrow (Alex James-Hatton) on the run after breaking out of prison with his brother Buck (Sam Ferriday). Clyde fixes her battered car and the die is cast as the youngsters fall in love.

Bonnie has aspirations to be an influencer 90 years before the term was invented while Clyde wants to be a gangster like his idol Al Capone. Together they egg each other on as Clyde commits bigger and more fatal criminal acts resulting in deaths.

In so many ways the current waves of lawlessness in both the UK and US are just history repeating itself.

Together they go on the run from the law utilising the peculiar to America idea of crossing state lines to avoid capture.

Of course no matter how far they run the law will eventually catch up with them and they are finally gunned down in a police ambush.

Tonkinson as Bonnie shows a great talent for singing, as does James-Hatton’s Clyde. The vocals are great. Ivan Menchell’s book manages to lighten the often dark story with comedy and Nick Winston’s direction and choreography enliven the stage. The set by Philip Witcomb along with lighting by Zoe Spurr and video by Nina Dunn envelope you in the privations of the period.

My sole criticism would be that by having the fatal shootout at the beginning meant that the romantically tender song Bonnie sings to Clyde at the end as they prepare for their final outing is a bit anti-climatic.

Bonnie & Clyde runs at The Theatre Royal Nottingham until Saturday 18th May 2024 and then continues on tour.




30 April 2024

Dangerous Corner


Review by Paul Towers, 29/4/24

Dangerous Corner by J B Priestley

Directed by John Ghent

Produced by Leicester Drama Society

At The Little Theatre until Saturday 4th May 2024

“the plot twists will make you gasp”

In 1932 JB Priestley had yet to gain widespread respect as a playwright. Dangerous Corner was his first attempt at a full length stage play.

Deliberately creating a one set play Priestley used a theme that he returned to again and again. Disharmony amongst families and friends due to secrets and lies.

In middle class middle England Freda (Joy Brankin-Frisby) and Robert Caplan (John Moulding) are throwing a dinner party for close friends and colleagues at Robert and Gordan’s (Stuart Bryan) publishing firm. Gordan’s wife, Betty (Rachael Humphrey), along with Freda, is friends with Olwen (Kat Lenthall), another guest. Of the friendship group the last is single Charles Stanton (Paul Beasley).

To add some much needed comedy Angela Hill’s Maud Mockridge, local celebrity author, is almost channelling Madame Acarti.

It would be a very suburban and cosy evening except for a single unguarded observation. An unusual looking box of chocolates are remarked upon and this opens a veritable Pandora’s Box of secrets and lies.

It is difficult to say much more if I don’t want to give away any spoilers. Suffice to say the plot twists will make you gasp.

The acting, as usual, is spot on and the set by Gem Greaves is a beautiful Art Nouveau sitting room. John Bale’s costumes are lavish, especially Maud’s turbaned concoction.

Dangerous Corner runs at The Little Theatre until Saturday 4th May

Pics: Poyner & Mee