Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen


Fiddler On The Roof

Wigston Operatic Society's annual production at Leicester's Little Theatre this year was Fiddler On The Roof, a tale of traditional Jews being evicted from their home village in 1905 Russia. The WAOS president expressed surprise in the programme notes that the society hadn't performed this show before. After seeing it I am not surprised.

While a hugely talented cast do the best they can the material is just unrelentingly downbeat. This is not an uplifting, feel-good musical. There are precious little toe-tapping tunes. Even If I Were A Rich Man, shorn of Hollywood's OTT glamour and glitz, is nothing much more than a mildly amusing dirge. There are quite a few amusing little one liners between Tevye and his wife, they are not enough to balance the rest of the downbeat story.

However, the poor choice of material can not take away from the cast their professional performance. Led by a live orchestra of 10 this huge cast of 22 don't put a foot wrong, there is not a weak cast member in the company and Ady Bales's Tevye more than fills the shoes of Topol in the Hollywood film.

Fiddler On The Roof is on at Little Theatre until Sat 23rd May

First published in Westerm Gazette
© Paul Towers 20/5/2015


What The Butler Saw

It has been far too long since I have wandered up Dover Street to Leicester's Little Theatre and tonight's production of Joe Orton's What The Butler Saw by Leicester Drama Society just highlights what a fool I have been to deprive myself of the professional quality productions they put on.

Written in 1966/7 but having to wait til 1969 and the final abolition of the contentious 1737 Licensing Act and 1843 Theatres Act whereby all scripts had to be approved by a Government body, latterly the Lord Chamberalin's office, Orton's final play, probably his most outrageous (for the time), is fittingly staged almost 50 years after being written in the very theatre that Orton made his stage debut in 1949.

Maybe preempting the abolition of censorship on stage, Orton has thrown every taboo he can think of into this fast paced, outrageous farce of cross dressing, mistaken identity and even a spot of nudity. With satirical digs at doctors, psychiatrists and his especial favourite target, the police Orton weaves a chaotic farce out of Dr Prentice's efforts in covering up a potential indiscretion.

A very talented cast of six amateurs (and let me re-emphasie this, amateurs) don't put a foot wrong and the audience are laughing out loud from the off. An ingenious set somehow makes the stage look much bigger than it is and the obligatory swinging doors and french windows provide all the entrances and exits needed to compound the confusion.

It would be unfair to single out any of the actors but Paul Large and Angela Edwards as Dr and Mrs Prentice were superb.

What The Butler Saw is on at Leicester Little Theatre until Saturday 16 May. This show is not for the easily offended but will provoke belly laughs.

© Paul Towers 12/5/2015
First published in Western Gazette


Billy Bow

The final show of Curve's Inside Out Festival 2015 is this glorious workshop production of Ian Friel and Andrew Fisher's Billy Bow, the tale of how an abused black English woman escapes from her alcoholic husband and runs away to sea disguised as a man. Having grown up with tales of daring do related on her father's knee, Wilhemina , a freed slave, becomes Billy and joins the wartime British Navy in, one supposes, the 18th century just as England engages with the French. Of course life under sail is far from the fantasy her Father sold her but she figures anything is better than her abusive husband. 'Billy' falls in love with a black press-ganged slave who guesses 'his' secret. This fails to be a happy ending when the poor unfortunate is soundly flogged and then thrown from the mast-head.

Act two starts off with an hilarious bawdy song by the 'Portsmouth Polls', the working girls who gathered round the arriving ships like flies round tainted meat. This provides very welcome light relief to what is, by its very nature, a largely heavy story.

Two keyboard players, one on either side of the front stage, keep the action moving along in a production that, without dialogue, bears more than a passing resemblance in style to Les Miserables. The huge cast (I counted 34) more than fill the stage of Curve's Studio. Unlike many workshop productions this one does have a backdrop (a ship's sail) and plenty of barrels and boxes to sit and stand on. The theatre itself was imaginatively draped in various ropes to convey a seagoing vessel.

This is, once again, a Curve Young Company production and is a great example of how a theatre's engagement with the local community (in this case mainly DMU) can produce some very professional work.

Billy Bow is on again on Wed 6 May. There might still be some tickets available if you are quick.

First published in Western Gazette
© Paul Towers 5/5/2015


Girls With Balls

Back to Curve for yet another toe dip into the highly successful Inside Out Festival and Off The Fence's contribution to the festivities. While most of us are used to seeing productions staged in either the main auditorium or the studio, we sometimes forget that Curve was designed to be infinitely adaptable with various rehearsal spaces being available for use. Girls With Balls was snugly ensconced in Rehearsal Room 2, converted for the duration into an intimate performance studio, as we eavesdropped on two contrasting ladies' football teams and their respective coaches.

Local author and first time playwright Alison Dunne has crafted an, at times, hilarious play that tells the story of how the thriving women's football sport was killed stone dead by the FA after the Great War when it refused to let them use official pitches. This was supposedly so that the remaining men who came back from the trenches wouldn't be distracted from interest in the reignited men's game, abandoned during hostilities.

The small cast of four double up as both teams as we switch from 1971 and supposedly enlightened modern society and 1921, the between the wars struggle to retain the rights women gained during the conflict. With a one-liner strewn opening the story gradually gets darker as we empathise with the frustrations of the 1920's team fighting a chauvinistic Football Association and celebrate the bawdy bravado of the 1970's team as they embrace modern liberations. It is only in the final minutes, appropriately enough, that the seeming lack of progress is starkly illustrated. The modern women's liberal consumption of cigarettes and expletive laden dialogue starkly highlights what is both right and wrong with emancipation.

This production brings together two of Off The Fence's favoured actors, Becca Copper, last seen as Vesta Tilley in England Expects, and Jonny McClean, seen most recently in Clamber Up The Crucifix. The company is completed with Molly Waters and Jessica Noonan under the expert direction of Off The Fence's artistic director and Curve regular, Gary Phillpott. Plans are already under way for a national tour in 2016.

It has to be said that there is an awful lot of swearing and smoking from the 'modern' team but this does highlight the differences between the two eras. For this reason alone this is not something that children should be taken to see, especially when the final twist in the tale happens.

© Paul Towers 2/5/2015
First published in Western Gazette