Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen


Lady Day

Review by: Paul Towers, 30/8/17
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill
Written by Lanie Robertson, starring Audra McDonald
Wyndham’s Theatre, London until 9th September 2017

“a breathtaking performance”

This is an outstanding performance from a true superstar of an astonishing story.
Billy Holliday was a troubled person, a battered product of a truly harrowing period of American history when black people were treated like animals. Yet despite her appalling life, despite the appalling abuse heaped on her by white and blacks alike, despite the ravages of drink and drugs Lady Day, as she was nicknamed, used her unique voice to lift her to unimaginable heights only for her self abuse to plunge her straight back down into the gutter.
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill is set in a somewhat run down bar in Philadelphia in 1959 shortly before her death.
For this production several rows of seats have been removed and replaced with cabaret style tables and chairs with lamps to give the impression of being in the titular Bar & Grill, an American way of combining dinner and a show. To further foster the illusion some tables were on stage for patrons to be part of the performance.
It has to be said that Audra McDonald’s performance is breathtaking, an extraordinary portrayal of  the battered talent which was Miss Billy Holliday in all its gut wrenching truth. Going from uplifting as her spirits soar and she sings like her heart is bursting to the very depths of her despair as Lady Day gradually falls apart before our eyes. The drink and drugs eating away at her very core.
Lanie Robertson wrote the script way back in 1986 and had successful runs in 1986 and 1987. It had a revival in 2005 but it was when Audra took on the role in 2014 that it was truly recognised as the masterpiece that it has now become. Audra McDonald won her sixth Tony in the role as well as an Emmy.


Billy The Kid

Review by: Paul Towers, 23 August 2017
Billy The Kid by Ben Frost & Richard Hough
A National Youth Music Theatre production
Curve  23 – 26 August 2017

“funny, musical and energetic.”

It is often a calculated risk to produce a completely new musical. There are invariably problems with the story and/or the musical numbers.
I am delighted to say that Billy The Kid suffers from none of these problems. This is a fully formed original musical fit for any stage
The story of Billy The Kid was, apparently, a ‘fake news’ piece created by Pat Garrett, the man who shot him down, to bolster his fragile ego (now where have we heard that recently?). Frost & Hough resolved to put the record straight, well more or less. William Antrim, Billy The Kid, is an undersized cowboy in the wildest of 19th Century America’s Wild West. The story concerns his turning up, on the run, in a town called Lincoln ruled by the corrupt patrician Col J Murphy. At first he is seduced by the Colonel’s power and influence but soon sees beneath the benevolent veneer and the violent bully that he really is. And leads the movement to free the town from his iron grip.
An unbelievably talented cast is led by Ben Lewis (13 but looks about 10) as Billy, Josh Barnett (19) as the Colonel and Fraser Jacobs (14) as Sam Briscoe. Young Ben’s scene stealing starts from the moment he launches into his big number at the top of the show. Billy’s Song is an all out show stopper rammed full of comedy and pathos. Not only can Ben sing up a storm but he has fine comic timing and can dance with the best of them.
As is typical in National Youth Music shows there is plenty of room for dance numbers that highlight the talents of the ensemble. It being a cowboy show there is an abundance of hoe-downing in a sea of check shirts.
The start was a little confusing as it began in modern day America with a classroom of unruly kids sabotaging the swots’ attempts at education. But then it all became clear when it was revealed that the whole Billy The Kid adventure was just the dream of young Billy, the smallest kid in the class.
The scene changes are masterfully achieved with clever choreography and multiple props. The staging was incredibly inventive with even a mad stagecoach chase at one point
This is a funny, musical and energetic romp from start to finish.
Billy The Kid is on at Curve until Saturday 26th August
Tickets available at

First published on Western Gazette


Leicester theatre autumn 2017

This autumn’s theatre roundup
Once again Leicester is spoilt for choice when it comes to cultural gluttony
Our three main theatres, Curve, DeMontfort Hall and The Little Theatre are crammed full of delights for the eyes and ears between now and Christmas
Curve has, as usual, a mixed bag of productions, both in-house and visiting, to suit all tastes. September starts off with the annual offering from LAOS. This year it is Parade, a ‘daring, gritty and bold’ story of miscarried justice. Further highlights are The Railway Children in October and my all time favourite movie translated to the stage, Sunset Boulevard, yet another Curve co-production prior to touring. Making a welcome return, for a third visit, is Paul Kerryson’s production of Hairspray. October sees the return of Curve’s very successful Inside Out Festival, a very accessible collection of performances in a variety of spaces within the theatre. Watch out for Curve Young Company’s Oaklhoma after their awesome Midsummer Night’s Dream. Once again Curve spoils us at Christmas with Scrooge and George’s Marvellous Medicine taking us into the New Year.
DeMontfort Hall, despite having a rolling series of renovations and improvements continuing, has a well stock festive cupboard for all tastes. For pure musical fans there is Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers, to my mind the perfect musical theatre production. Christmas is taken care of with the now traditional pantomime. This year it is Beauty and The Beast with Leicester’s own Sam Bailey. Between now and then there is the usual eclectic mix of stand up comedy, musical acts and headline bands.
Not to be outdone, The Little Theatre has the usual mix of thrillers, farces and musicals. All at affordable prices. Where else can you get to see Les Miserable or Annie for less than £15? Alongside the visiting productions there is the annual pantomime. This year it is Dick Whittington.
Just up the road from The Little is the often overlooked Y Theatre. This 117 year old theatre is home to a wide selection of one nighters ranging from comedians to bands to ballet.
Of course we mustn’t forget our very own Upstairs at The Western, Leicester’s only pub theatre. This very popular venue, now in its second season under new management, has a wide range of shows, many running for more than one night or on a monthly basis. Find The Write Words is the immensely popular poetry nights. This season there is a ew regular comedy night, Jestin’ at The Western hosted by local legend Dan Nicholas. There is also the return of the well respected comedy workshops
Full details of all the above venues can be found online  at:


A Midsummer's Night's Dream

Review by: Paul Towers, 16 August 2017
A Midsumer Night’s Dream  by William Shakespeare
A Curve Young Company and Community Production
Curve 10 – 20th August 2017

“a magical dream”

First up I have to admit that Shakespeare normally leaves me cold. I just cannot tune into the dialogue patterns. It is like a foreign language to me.
That said, although I did not have high hopes for this production I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. While the huge chunks of Shakesperean verbiage bored me to death, this play has the huge advantage of being liberally laced with plenty of  humour and, under Nick Winston’s direction, huge chunks of physical comedy.
Most of the hilarity is provided by Alexander Clifford’s Bottom (his character, not his anatomy!) who seemed to be channelling Marlon from Emmerdale to great effect.
While the entire cast is excellent special mention has to go to Harvey Thorpe and Chris Brookes as Demitirus and Lysander, the thwarted lovers of Helena and Hermia who swashbuckle their way through a very realistic fight sequence.
In a break with tradition Puck is played by two actors simultaneously, Joel Fossard-Jones and Mahesh Parmar, as a sort of devilish Jedward, sometimes sharing lines and sometimes alternating but at all times creating mischief. Very effective.
The set is very imaginative, a grassy knoll which doubles up as a stage; a very effective cyclorama across the back of the stage that is used to imply the forest, the various interiors and also a screen for dream sequences.
To make the play more relevant to a young audience there are modern ‘street’ dances inserted and a couple of songs which, although not strictly authentic, worked well.
All in all this is a magical dream that will, hopefully, entice more youngsters into the theatre.
Tickets are still available at
First published on Western Gazette