Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen


Kiss of the Spiderwoman

Review by: Paul Towers, 27/4/18
Kiss of The Spiderwoman by Manuel Puig, adapted by Jose Rivera & Allan Baker
A Menier production starring Samuel Barnett & Declan Bennett with Grace Cookey-Gam
Menier Chocolate Factory until 5 May 2018

“Outstanding performances by both Bennett and Barnett.”

Many people will be aware of the film of Manual Puig’s The Kiss of The Spiderwoman starring William Hurt and Raol Julia. This is the most recent adaptation of the original book which is a stripped back narrative concentrating solely on the relationship between Molina (Samuel Bennet), the gay man incarcerated for gross indecency, and Valentin (Declan Bennett) the straight political activist. Forced into uncomfortable proximity they form an uneasy alliance in an attempt to break the boredom engulfing them. To this end Molina enacts old romantic movies from the heyday of Hollywood starring strong leading ladies.
As Molina’s ever more flamboyant portrayals of movie queens progress Valentin finds himself drawn in despite himself until eventually it gets too much and, needs must, Molina’s dream of romance with tough guy Valentin finally becomes a reality.
The interior of the Menier has been transformed into a battered concrete corner of the cell block with a mezzanine of cell doors ranged around the set. Rubble is scattered across the floor as the two prisoners try and make themselves comfortable on their basic metal beds.
Outstanding performances by both Bennett and Barnett make this a tense discourse on how to survive adversity. The finale of this production surprises everyone with, apart from the expected denouement, a rain shower onstage.

The Grinning Man

Review by: Paul Towers, 27/4/18
The Grinning Man by Carl Grose, Tom Morris, Tim Phillips & Marc Teitler
Bristol Old Vic & Trafalgar Entertainment production
Trafalgar Studios til 5 May 2018

“funny, sad, musical story of triumph over adversity.”

Imagine a time towards the end of the 19th century, a time of magic and fairytales. Especially Grimm Fairytales. Imagine a parallel universe where horrific things are done, where giant wolf-dogs abound and travelling carnivals shelter the weird and wonderful. This is the world of the Grinning Man, Grimpayne, played by Louis Makell, an orphan whose mouth was slit in a failed attempt to silence his witnessing of his parents’ murders.
Appallingly disfigured and scared, Grimpayne is sheltered in a travelling fair to be exhibited for pennies.
So far this does not sound like a good basis for an amusing musical. But, based on the story by Victor Hugo (no surprise given his other famous works include Les Miserable and The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and reworked for the stage by Carl Grose with original music by Carl Grose, Tom Morris, Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, this turns into a funny, sad, musical story of triumph over adversity and karma.
The theatre has been made over to resemble a run down carnival, paint and playbills are peeling off the walls and the stage is surrounded by weathered wood with fading paintwork depicting the titular split smile of Grimpayne. The proceedings are narrated and progressed by a sinister jester/MC, played by Julian Bleach, whose servile manner and Shakespearean oratory, hides myriad secrets
The set in what is a comparatively intimate theatre space is incredibly complex with chunks of scenery moving in and out and round and round as the action moves from the circus to the bedrooms of various people, to the royal court to the forest.
Add into this mix several puppets (created by the team behind War Horse) including a wolf/dog the size of a pony and the child Grimpayne
Trafalgar Studios were, in a previous incarnation, The Whitehall Theatre. Nowadays this has been split into two intimate theatres studios by the relatively simple method of building a stage floor out from the front of the old balcony. The upstairs studio therefore has steeply raked seating meaning great views form every part of the auditorium. The only downside is that, being an old theatre, leg room is not a priority. If you are above average height avoid the side seats in the front 10 rows,


Drag Queen Bingo

Review by: Paul Towers, Friday, 20 April 2018
Drag Queen Bingo with Nancy Saeed
Upstairs @ The Western, 20th April –next session Thu 14th June

“more outrageous than a Wednesday afternoon at Freemans Common Gala,.”

Drag Queen Bingo. It does exactly what it says on the tin.
Drag Queen Nancy Saeed presides over cards of bingo and other silly games for what she freely admits are tacky gifts that even Blankety Blank would be ashamed of (actually, not that tacky, just low end and proud of it). But then who goes to this sort of night to win a life changing fortune? Its all about the craic!
Of course some of her acidic asides are bordering on tasteless, but what do you expect from a cock in a  frock? This sure ain’t family fun. Leave your prudery at the door, embrace the glitz and have a good time. You never know, you may even win a bottle of  Alepcin!
Our Nancy is also no mean singer as was shown by her initial version of Rollin’ Down The River and parody of Adele’s Hello.
A lively, enthusiastic, sold out audience were on her side from the very beginning.
If you are looking for a few games of bingo that are far more outrageous than a Wednesday afternoon at Freemans Common Gala, then this is for you. But be warned, the tickets fly so book early.

Upstairs at The Western


An officer and a gentleman

 Review by: Paul Towers, Thursday, 19 April 2018
An Officer and a Gentleman by Douglas Day Stewart & Sharleen Cooper Cohen
A Made at Curve production
Curve 6 – 21 April 2018

“Jonny Fines … the climax that every woman in the audience had been waiting for”

I have never seen the film other than to see the clip where Richard Gere picks up a factory girl and walks off into the sunset in the finale.
I am pleased to confirm that that iconic moment is still the finale and it has to be said that when Jonny Fines as Zack Mayo appears at the top of the staircase in his Officer whites it was the climax that every woman in the audience had been waiting for.
A feast of 80’s hits are the background to this story of officer training recruits and factory girls jousting with each other while the love story of Zack and Paula (Emma Williams) unfolds.
As a new intake of raw recruits start to be put through their paces several fall by the wayside until a hard core of 6 remain. As Sergeant Foley (Emil Shell) pushes them harder and harder the men resort to hard partying to counter the stresses of the training. Many of the local factory girls are looking to trap the airmen into marriage and escape from their drudgery by falling pregnant. Paula is one of the few with principles and wants to marry for love. That love is Zack. Jonny Fines’ Zack certainly has the physique to convince as a serviceman; his good looks had all the female members of the audience swooning (and a good few of the men!) and his fitness was evident when Foley put him through gruelling calisthenics.
The entire cast sing, march and look pretty good, especially when the guys start to strip down to their underwear at just about every opportunity (thanks director Nikolai Foster!)
This production is going out on tour when it finishes at Curve and is scheduled to end up in London’s West End later this year. Another national success for Nikolai Foster and his team.
This show is hugely ambitious with a gigantic set, magnificent lighting effects, amazing back projections (some filmed in Aylestone Meadows) and a live orchestra.
This is not a show for the easily offended as there is plenty of ‘language’ and a suicide. That said, tonight’s performance (and apparently just about every other one) got a well deserved standing ovation and is almost fully booked. Try calling the box office for possible returns.
Once again a Made At Curve production is going out on the road and showing just how good our local theatre is.



Review by: Paul Towers, Thursday, 12 April 2018
Pals by Jason Gerdes, inspired by real war diaries
A NorthSouth Theatre production directed by Jason Squibb
Upstairs @ The Western, 12& 13th April 2018

“based on real war diaries.”

World War One was supposed to be the war to end all wars. But all it did was decimate the country’s youth as they were shipped out in increasing numbers to the French trenches to be used as cannon fodder.
Pals is based on real war diaries and is the story of three mates, two related by marriage, who buy into the romance of going off to a foreign country to fight the Bosch. It will all be over by Christmas, they were told.
Of course we all know this was, at best, wistful thinking, at worst, blatant lies. The hostilities dragged on for 4 long years and some 16 million people died and another 20 million were injured.
But our three comrades shipped out blissful in their ignorance. That naivety was soon dashed as they faced the horrors of the trenches. As boyhood friends they did their best to see each other through the horrors, not always successfully.
NorthSouth’s production skillfully blends comedy with the privations they had to endure, illustrating the British stiff upper lip that has seen us through so many things in history.
The cast of four take us through the optimism of the youngsters prior to signing up right up to the devastating reality of war, any war. The acting is superb; in Upstairs’ intimate space the actors’ emotions are plain to see. The set, a trench, is so realistic you can almost see the rats and smell the latrines. There is also a great ambient soundtrack of enemy bombardment, a non stop reminder that death is just over the top of the trench. Lighting is used to great effect as shells continue to rain down.
Pals is on again on Friday 13th April and there are a few seats left. Highly recommended.
Full details of future tours can be found at

Upstairs at The Western
First published on Western Gazette