Reviews

Aladdin by Eric Potts

Review by: Paul Towers, 27/12/19

Produced by Imagine Theatre

DeMontfort Hall – 14 December to 5 January 2020

"a solid, entertaining show suitable for all ages"

It's Christmas, it's Leicester and it's DeMontfort Hall. It can only be one thing, the now annual treat from Imagine Theatre, the pantomime! Oh yes it is, oh no it isn't!

It seems that every year the panto gets better and better. Last year it was Peter Pan and this year, obviously having been pleased with the flying effects; it is Aladdin, complete with flying carpet.

Christmas is the season to be jolly and by golly was De Montfort Hall ringing with the boos for Abanazar, laughs at the Widow Twankie's near-the-knuckle jokes and the obligatory sing-a-long. This was festive family entertainment for all the family.

This Aladdin is a very traditional pantomime written by master script writer, Eric Potts. It has all the key elements you want from a festive treat.

Right from the start Abanazar (boy band Blue's Anthony Costa) has the audience hissing and booing as he rips into Leicester, the football team and some of the more salubrious local areas. He is very effective as the villain of the night and is the butt of a running joke throughout.
Local lass Sam Bailey, making her third appearance in panto at DeMontfort Hall, is So Shi, lady in waiting to Princess Jasmine and eventual wife of the Emperor. This time round she is given full reign to show off her amazing singing voice as well as showcasing her comedy skills.

When it comes to comedy Dame Widow Twankey (Leicester Radio's own Martin Ballard) and Wishee Washee (BGT's Paul Burling) make a very effective double act keeping the laughs going from curtain up to curtain down including a charming routine involving 4 youngsters from the audience.

Aladdin is played by young magician Matthew Pomeroy and he is given the opportunity to show off his not inconsiderable magic skills throughout the show, especially using Princess Jasmine (Natasha Lamb).

CBBC's Nathan Connor is a rapping Genie partnered with Gabriella Polchino as the Spirit of The Ring. The cast is filled out with young local dancers.

Once again Imagine Theatre has come up with a solid, entertaining show suitable for all ages. A lot of the one liners will go over youngsters' heads but there is nothing to provoke awkward questions at a later date.

Aladdin runs until Saturday 5th January and there is a special relaxed performance on Thursday 2nd January at 1pm. Some tickets are still available for most dates.

DeMontfort Hall -  www.demontforthall.co.uk
Paul Towers - http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae & Guy Parker-Rees, adapted by Julia Thomas & Tasha Taylor Johnson

Produced by Curve, Rose Original Productions & Simon Friend.

At Curve: 19 – 5th January 2020

Review by: Paul Towers, 12/12/19

"Huge fun for kids of all ages"

Once again Curve has teamed up with The Rose Theatre, Kingston for its annual children's Christmas show. After the success of previous productions of The Cat in the Hat, George's Marvellous Medicine and The Witches this year's offering is Giraffes Can't Dance based on the book of the same name.

Gerald the giraffe (Sophie Coward) has always wanted to go to the annual Jungle Dance but, being all long legs and even longer neck, is never going to make it past week one of Strictly. However a wise and friendly cricket, (Phyllis Ho) persuades Gerald to grasp the moment and, with the help from his Jungle Friends (Joshua Coley, Gracia Rios 7 Jason Yeboa) he finally finds his mojo.

This is an all singing, all dancing 55 minute show for every kid from 2 upwards. At today's Press launch the audience covered the entire spectrum of ages and abilities with Curve's very versatile studio space making room for several wheelchairs on the front row. Huge fun was had by all.

The cast work incredibly hard, not only on stage but beforehand as they gee up the kiddies so they are accepted before the show even starts. It meant that the audience were well versed in cheering and clapping and shouting out when needed.

The script includes loads of animal puns for the adults, an original score, many costume changes and a whole barrel of audience interaction.

Giraffes Can't Dance is on until 5th January.

Curve: https://www.curveonline.co.uk/
Paul Towers:http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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West Side Story, book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Review by: Paul Towers, 28/11/19

A Made At Curve production directed by Nikolai Foster

At Curve: 23 Nov – 11 Jan 2020

"a huge, lively, energetic dose of 1950's New York"

First produced in 1957 by Jerome Robbins, West Side Story is inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Two disparate communities, native New Yorkers and immigrant Puerto Ricans, battle each other for turf rights. Testosterone boils over and violence ensues. In 1961 it was filmed as a full blown musical to great acclaim. It has been revived countless times and, in these troubled days of out-of-control knife crime in major cities across the country, it is sadly still very relevant.

Star-crossed lovers Maria and Tony fall for each other despite the enmity of their respective communities. They sneak around surreptitiously, cementing their bond but the violence inevitably comes between them and tragedy strikes, boldly having the curtain fall without a customary happy ending.

The set by Michael Taylor, is a huge three storey edifice of apartments above a diner which rolls in and out. Most of the rest of the set consists of a huge rubbish dump signifying the downmarket state of the neighbourhood and a number of wire fences that create corridors and cages.

Director Nikolai Foster has created a violent, poverty stricken corner of New York where gang violence is the norm.

You would be forgiven for thinking that this all sounds very downbeat and depressing. Of course, like many inner city areas, a lot of the time life is hard. But the story is enlivened with some great comedy routines. Anita, Rosalie and Conseula's (Carly Mercedes Dyer, Mireia Mambo & Abigail Climer) rendition of America is outstanding combining comedy and high energy Latin American dancing. Both Maria and Tony (Adriana Ivelisse and Jamie Muscato) have superb singing voices and Ivelisse handles the comedy in her character very well.

However, the superlative number for me was Gee, Officer Krupke, superbly choreographed as a burlesque routine in front of the curtain by Action, Diesel, Big Deal, Baby John and A-Rab (Isaac Gryn, Michael O'Reilly, Dale White, Alex Christian and Ryan Anderson respectively).

Once again the production benefited form the addition of members of the Curve Young Company who have provided two teams of actors to supplement the main cast

The choreography by Ellen Kane is balletic and very energetic while the creative lighting by Guy Hoare is both atmospheric and, in the Krupke routine, almost a character in itself! Kudos should also go to fight director Kevin McCurdy for very realistic combat routines.

As is pointed out on the flyers this story contains violence and themes that may be unsuitable for children.

West Side Story runs at Curve until 11th January 2020. There are special Access Performances throughout the run. Full details are on the website.

Curve: https://www.curveonline.co.uk/
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

 

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In a village near a forest by 'Funmi Adewole

Performed by 'Funmi Adewole

Review by: Paul Towers, 30/10/19

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.

Upstairs at The Western: http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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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

Review by: Paul Towers, 28/10/19

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 has 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
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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Boar by Lewis Doherty

A co-production by Lewis Doherty, The North Wall and Nottingham Playhouse

Curve – 25 October 2019

Review by: Paul Towers, 25/10/19

"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
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney

A National Theatre production directed by Bijan Sheibani

Curve 22 – 26 October 2019

Review by: Paul Towers, 22/10/19

"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
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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Wolf by Lewis Doherty

A Lewis Doherty & The Northwall presentation

Curve – 18/10/19

Review by: Paul Towers, 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 till 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 till 26th October and features performances from new artistes along with various support workshops. Full details are on the website.

Lewis Dohertyhttp://www.lewisdoherty.com/

Curve: https:curveonline.co.uk
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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Ruby and Cedar by Alison Dunne

A Fishhouse Theatre presentation

Upstairs @ The Western, 17 & 18 Oct 2019

Review by: Paul Towers, 17/10/19

"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 (tonight Friday Oct 18th), which is lucky as Thursday was old out, and continues the tour it started in June 2019. Details on Fishhouse Theatre's Facebook page.

Upstairs at The Western: http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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Cabaret by Joe Masteroff, music & lyrics by John Kander & Fred Ebb

A Bill Kenwright presentation

Curve 15 – 19 October 2019

Review by: Paul Towers, 15/10/19

"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 give 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

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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Trade by debbie tucker green

Review by: Paul Towers, 12/10/19

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/

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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Bin & Gone by Tom Glover

A Boxfish Theatre production with Danny Rogers

Review by: Paul Towers, 3/10/19

Upstairs @ The Western, 3/10/19

"a beautifully crafted script"

 During the late 70's and most of the 80's Saturday Night TV was dominated by quiz shows and variety shows. The big names were Tarbuck, Forsyth and Ted Rogers. All acts who could sing, dance, tell jokes and present shows.

Bin & Gone is the story of Ted Rogers and the transformation of Variety into Light Entertainment for television as told by his son Danny Rogers, himself an accomplished variety performer. Ted's rise to fame took the route of  what was to become a well trodden path for all-rounders in the 50's and 60's. The holiday camps. He knew from an early age that entertaining was his calling, as was son Danny's.

Ted's star ascended pretty quickly once he had polished his talents and his son here revels in name dropping such luminaries as Danny Kaye (after whom he is named), Bing Crosby, Andy Williams and Bob Hope, all stars he effortlessly impersonates in passing. Along the way he also impersonates his father, dropping snippets of his act in as he slips in and out of reminiscences.

Ted's biggest break was when ITV asked him to front a new game show, 3-2-1.This perfectly fitted Ted's instant rapport with an audience and allowed him full reign for his linguistic gymnastic abilities. Alongside Dusty Bin, a remote controlled cartoon-like dustbin, Ted created the iconic had gesture that was a signature of the show.

All of this success quickly translated into money in the bank as he was in great demand. Unfortunately the minute 3-2-1 was cancelled in 1988 the money and work started to dry up and the family were reduced to comparative poverty. This was further compounded by Ted's wife, Marion, falling off a horse and sustaining life changing injuries.

When Ted died in 2001 Danny was just 11 years old and, his mother being unable to cope any more, he went into care. A decision which he credits with saving him and steering him towards his current fulfilling career as a song and dance man with a gift for impressions and a hugely personable character.

This is a beautifully crafted script which has obviously had huge input from Danny and is an emotional homage to a comedian, presenter, singer, dancer and father who is much missed. Ted would, I am sure, be incredibly proud of his son, not only because of the love with which he presents his story but also for the way he is carrying on entertaining with the talents handed down in his father's genes.

The old 3-2-1 shows, complete with impenetrable riddle clues and daft prizes, continue to run on Challenge TV if you want a reminder of simpler times.

Bin & Gone is touring and future dates can be found at www.binandgoneplay.co.uk

Upstairs at The Western: http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
Paul Towers:http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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My Beautifully Laundrette by Hanif Kureishi

A Curve, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Everyman Theatre Cheltenham & Leeds Playhouse co-production

Review by: Paul Towers, 26/9/19

Curve 20 Sept – 5 Oct then touring

"a pacey, unapologetically subversive snapshot of 1980's London"

When My Beautiful Laundrette was released on film in 1986 it was regarded as quite controversial with its themes of racism, inter racial relationships and especially gay ones. It was probably only that the lead was Daniel Day Lewis that it got a mainstream release.

Now, 33 years later, original author Hanif Kureishi has adapted it for the stage. Remarkably many of the original issues are incredibly relevant still. Immigration, right wing thugs and racist tensions still abound.

My Beautiful Laundrette is essentially a love story between Jonny (Jonny Fines) a National Front hooligan and his old school friend Omar (Omar Malik), a British born Pakistani struggling to find his place in multi cultural 1980's South London. Tensions abound with NF trouble stirrers attacking non-whites and immigrants trying to adjust to Western cultural differences and using any means possible to succeed in business.

Author Hanif Kureishi, a mixed race Pakistani himself, doesn't shy away from the problems of the sometimes cruelly patriarchal society of Omar's homeland while devoting equal time to the right wing problems of Thatcher's Britain.

While there are the expected tender moments between Jonny and Omar they are in no way gratuitous. There are some quite vicious interactions between Salim (Hareet Deol in a suitably evil looking beard) and Jonny and Genghis (Paddy Daly).

With beautiful synchronicity Omar's father, Papa, is played by Gordon Warnecke, the original Omar in the film. Nassar, Omar's munificent Uncle is played by Kammy Darweish. Cathy Tyson returns to Leicester to play Salim's wife and Nassar's mistress.

The flashy, very 1980's set is designed by Grace Smart  who took inspiration from Top Of The Pops, with lighting by Ben Cracknell. Add into the mix a soundtrack by The Pet Shop Boys and director Nikolai Foster has created a pacey, unapologetically subversive snapshot of 1980's London.

My Beautiful Laundrette is at Curve until 5 October and then touring

Curve: https://www.curveonline.co.uk
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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RE: Jessi by  Jessi Wilson

Review by: Paul Towers, 25/9/19

Upstairs @ The Western, 25 September 2019

"should old wounds be reopened?"

Like most men I have little idea what goes on inside the emotional heart of the average woman. RE: Jessi is, I suppose, trying to go some way to educate us mere males. 

With just a sofa, a table and a small desk Jessi Wilson pulls numbers out of a hat, each number pertaining to one of the 37 sexual conquests she has had over the last 15 years.  This is not a litany of sexual adventures, more a randomly ordered set of emotional forays; some no more than one night stands, others long standing affairs. Some encounters warrant no more than a single line, others have involved back stories.

Along the way we find funny moments, poignant tales and downright anger inducing misogyny.

Jessi wrote this show by contacting all 37 of her past 'lovers' and asking them for their memories. Some didn't even reply, hence the one line descriptions of their involvement.

This is very much a woman's emotional journey and feels like someone sitting down with her best friend and a bottle of Prosecco to put her love life to rights.

Jessi Wilson has that warm Dawn French feel about her.

The entire evening (all 1 hour 40 minutes of it) was a series of little portraits of emotion referring to each of the 37. The end was Jessi reflecting on whether all this stirring up of sleeping dogs was worth the emotional pain; should old wounds be reopened?

 

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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War Horse by Nick Stafford based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo

A National Theatre production

Curve 18 Sept to 12 October

Review by: Paul Towers, 18/9/19

"astonishing production ... emotionally draining."

Rarely have I come out of a theatre feeling so emotionally drained as I stumbled out of Curve tonight from War Horse, the story of Joey and Albert, horse and owner inextricably linked by The Great War of 1914-18.

The opening vision of the foal, the infant Joey, stumbling around on his too long legs lulls you into a false sense of security and does not prepare you for the horrors that horse and owner go through. All too soon foal Joey fades into the shadows to be replaced by, looming out of Curve's dark cavernous stage, the awesome sight of full grown Joey, a thoroughbred racehorse with a mind of his own. Permanently bonded to Albert, William Ilkley, the illiterate son of a Devon farmer, they are torn apart when Joey is sold by Albert's father for the princely sum of £100 and sent away to France to become cannon fodder for the cavalry.

All this would be emotional enough until you actually see the extraordinary puppets that are the horses. Some, like Joey and his buddy Topthorn, have very complicated articulation and are operated by three operators. Others are less complicated and have fewer manipulators. Oh, and then there is the goose, much needed light relief, guided by a single guy, Jonathan Cobb.

Because the various puppeteers work on a rota to prevent RSI I can't say which ones were on tonight but, whoever they were they were magnificent at characterising the horses' various moods.

The whole story was nicely moved along by a narrator, Ben Murray, who sang original folk songs written for the play.

The puppets (although it does them a huge disservice to call them mere puppets) are remarkable in their versatility and ability to convey emotions. Curve's huge main stage gives them the room they need to gallop around and rear up. At one point there is a huge cannon and even a WW1 tank rumbling out of the wings. Slung across the top of the stage is a banner reminiscent of the top of a page ripped out of a notepad onto which is projected a series of still sketches and animations telling us the timeline of the various events. This ties in with the similarly torn piece of paper that Albert carries through the war with a sketch of his beloved Joey.

To further cement the period in our minds the horrors of war are all too vividly recreated in sound and music by designer Christopher Shutt. Lighting design by Paule Constable adds further atmosphere and effect to the horrific slaughter on the stage.

Directed by Marianne Elliot and Tom Morris this is an astonishing production of a story that many said was un-stageable.

War Horse is at Curve until 12 October and tickets are still available and I defy you to walk out with dry eyes and without a lump in your throat.

Curve: https://curveonline.co.uk
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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Sexy Lamp by Katie Arnstein

Directed by Ellen Havard

Review by: Paul Towers, 12/9/2019

Upstairs @ The Western, 11-13 September 2019

 "the script was packed with  laugh out loud moments"

Yesterday we were introduced to Katie Arnstein's world in her debut, award winning show, Bicycles & Fish. Tonight we were treated to the follow up story of her long and often arduous efforts to become an actress like her heroine Judy Garland as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.

The sexy lamp of the title refers to a theory devised by Kelly Sue DeConnick whereby any strong female character can be replaced by a sexy lamp in so many male created films. The thinking behind it is that the character is in a production purely for a visual aesthetic rather than as a meaningful relevance to the story.

Katie like lists and for an hour she took us through the two most important lists in her life, written when she was still at school.

Tapping into her now skilful ability to both tell a story and also find the characters in the story, Arnstein takes us on a journey which began in a primary school Christmas show, Santa's Snow Mobile, right through to bucking against the trend of sleazy casting agents who require gratuitous and unwarranted nudity in films and auditions. All very #MeToo.

The story is nicely rounded off by the tale of how she saved a woman who was being molested on a packed tube train.

Once again she has her trusty ukulele to hand to accompany her insightful and original songs, only this time they were funnier and pithier. In fact the entire script was packed with even more laugh out loud moments than before.

Katie Arnstein is a very engaging actress/writer who deserves all the plaudits she gets.

A double bill of both Bicycles & Fish and Sexy Lamp is on tomorrow (Friday 13th) at Upstairs at The Western. Well worth catching.

 Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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Bicycles and Fish by Katie Arnstein

Review by: Paul Towers, 11/9/19

Directed by Daniel Goldman

Upstairs @ The Western, 11 – 13 Sept 2019

"by turns hilarious and touching"

 Over the years I have been reviewing productions at Upstairs I have seen quite a few shows from Tangram Theatre Company and Bicycles and Fish is up there with their best works.

Written and performed by new playwright Katie Arnstein this is her story of how, at the ripe old age of 16, she became a woman. This is not a traumatic account of her first menstruation (although I am sure that Arnstein could make even that hilarious), nor has it anything to do with fish or bicycles.  No, this is the tale of how she gained the confidence to say no and stand up for herself. Inbetween avoiding the lecherous advances of the café boss where she minimum-waged herself in the hope of saving up for driving lessons to learning how to avoid the lecherous advances of a beer crazed stag party on the train home Katie became a stronger woman (hm there's a theme here that many women will recognise intimately).

Katie Arnstein is immensely personable with a very warm stage presence, a deft way with an aphorism and a talent for original ukulele songs.

A simple stage with a couple of chairs and a side table were all that Arnstein needed to conjure up her adventures in the West Midlands

This was by turns hilarious and touching as she let us into the world of her 16 year old self's journey into maturity and first love.

Bicycles and Fish is on at Upstairs at The Western again on Friday 13th Sept in a  double bill with Sexy Lamp, the sequel, which is on alone on Thursday 12th

Tangram Theatre: https://www.tangramtheatre.co.uk

Upstairs at The Western: http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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Grease by Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey, directed by Nikolai Foster choreography by Arlene Phillips

Review by: Paul Towers, 04/09/19

A Made at Curve production

Curve 3 – 14 September 2019 and touring

"a hell of a high energy show"

This Curve production of Grease has been touring since last year and makes a triumphant return to its home theatre before heading back out onto the road again.

In the interim director Nikolai Foster and Arlene Phillips have taken hold of the production and shaken it up with new choreography which raises the energy levels into the stratosphere. I last saw a touring production in 2001and this production is unrecognisable from that staid version.

The story of Grease is as old as the hills; boy meets girl, boy brags to his mates and loses the girl, girl and boy get together at the end. This is all told against the backdrop of a 1959 American High School prom. The show is jam packed with recognisable songs from Summer Nights, Greased Lightnin', Hopelessly Devoted and You're the One That I Want. A cracking script veers from laugh out loud moments to tearful emotions. Just like every teenager's awkward school years.

The set is a very movable jumble of gym bars and furniture in front of a radio station which reinforces the period with various hits played in the background.

The lead characters are well cast and charismatic; Dan Partridge as Danny Zuko and Martha Kirby as Sandy Dumbrowski work very well together, especially when Sandy finally finds her mojo in the iconic You're The One That I want. Louis Gaunt as Kenickie bounces around the stage with some impressive gymnastics; Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky as Rizzo has many of the acid one liners while Darren Bennett as Vince Fontaine, a pervy DJ, also doubles up as Teen Angel. Despite Peter Andre being plastered all over the promotional material and only occasionally appearing in the tour, he was not missed in the role.

An eight piece band were secreted at the back of the stage which gave a full sound to the actors' voices.

All in all this is a hell of a high energy show that delivers a great night out with strong singing, outstanding dancing and good acting. Curve should be proud of the show and that so many people around the UK can see it in all its glory.

Tour details: https://greasethemusicalontour.com/

Curve: https://curveonline.co.uk
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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The Entertainer by John Osbourne

Review by: Paul Towers, 29 August 2019

A Made At Curve co-production with Anthology Theatre & Simon Friend Entertainment

Curve August 2019

“50 years old but still relevant.”

It may be more than 50 years old but John Osbourne’s ‘angry middle aged man’ drama about the demise of variety and the Suez Crisis has been updated to the 80’s and the Falklands War.

Archie Rice, following in his father Billy’s footsteps, is an old school music hall front of cloth comic. Unfortunately for him Music Hall went out of fashion many years before but Archie is unable to change. He struggles on, wheeling out the same tired old patter in third rate venues to disinterested audiences up and down the country. Travelling with him are his father Billy, his wife Phoebe and his son Frank who stage manages him.

The unexpected arrival of his daughter Jean from his first marriage sets the cat amongst the pigeons and Archie starts to put on a performance to avoid confronting the truth about his failing marriage and career. The casual racism and homophobia further alienates his daughter.

Ever more desperate for a last stab at a career Archie puts his father back on the boards with fatal consequences.

Throughout the play we are witness to the disintegration of Archie’s life and career.

A very clever script from Osbourne weaves into Archie’s patter a selection of dud jokes along with the real funnies.

A stellar cast does this play and Curve proud. Heading up the small company is Shane Richie as Archie, here proving that he is much more than the tic-heavy caricature he played on Eastenders. Ably supporting as his wife Phoebe is the hugely underrated Sara Crowe; the last heavyweight is veteran actor Pip Donaghy as Grandad Billy Rice. These three tear up the stage as each is given their moment of glory. Although Richie gets double the opportunity with both his appalling stage act and his highly dysfunctional family life. The final pair in the cast are Diana Vickers as daughter Jean and Christopher Bonwell as son Frank.

Richie has carefully avoided Laurence Olivier’s originating interpretation of the character and has obviously taken inspiration from a variety of old school comics such as Les Dawson and Frankie Howard. His murdering of several songs is testament to the fact that he really can sing. As Les Dawson always said you need to be able to play the piano well to play it badly.

As the abandoned wife Sara Crowe gives a master class in drowning in a gin bottle while Archie does the same in Double Diamond bottles. Pip Donaghy’s Grandad Billy is very much inspired by Alf Garnett with his strong right wing views and salty language.

If you do manage to get a ticket for the rest of the run then expect strong language, outdated social references and high drama

This production continues to tour right up to Christmas

Tour details https://www.theentertainerplay.co.uk

Curve: www.curveonline.co.uk
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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Amelie The Musical by Craig Lucas, Daniel Messe & Nathan Tysen

Review by: Paul Towers, 9/7/19

Haymarket Leicester 9 – 13 July 2019

"My verdict? In the vernacular of the youngsters today, meh!"

 The set of Amelie is a work of art. Doors slide back and forth to reveal hidden rooms and Amelie's bedroom is entertainingly perched atop the set in the style of a Hobbit house.

The story starts off with Amelie as a toddler, imagined adorably realistic in puppet form. Along the way there are several surreal elements, at times almost like a Terry Gilliam movie. Amelie has had a terrible childhood with an icy mother and a wanting father. She is socially secluded and views the world through a telescope. When she spots a boy she fancies she has to devise a roundabout way to meet him. At least, that's what I think it is about.

The score is reminiscent of Once; folksy and almost Irish in tempo.

I have never seen the film and, apparently, watching the film will make more sense of the stage musical.

It's not a bad show; the instrument playing ensemble are perfectly good instrumentalists, they can also act and sing. The leading actors can sing and act well enough. But the narrative, in 'Allo 'Allo French accents, is often hard to follow and the story is not at all clear. My verdict? In the vernacular of the youngsters today, meh!

I assume that the leads are played by Audrey Brisson and Danny Mac but there were no programmes available so I haven't a clue. As for the rest of the cast, your guess is as good as mine.

Amelie is at Haymarket until Saturday 13th July

Haymarket Theatre: https://www.haytheatre.com/

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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The Color Purple by Marsha Norman
Music by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephan Bray

Review by: Paul Towers, 03/7/19

A Curve and Birmingham Hippodrome co-production

Curve 28 June to 13 July
Birmingham Hippodrome 16 to 20 July 2019

"T'shan Williams as Celie has a voice to bring the house down"

On the off chance that you have not seen the multi award nominated film; The Color Purple is the story of Celie and her appalling abusive childhood where she is raped by her step father (Delroy Brown) at the age of fourteen who then takes away her two resulting children. Celie is given away to a friend of her step father, Albert (Ako Mitchell), who continues the cycle of use and abuse, isolating her from her sole family member, sister Nettie (Danielle Fiamanya). Cowed and used as a skivvy Celie meekly accepts her lot in life til she sees friend Sofia stand up to her husband, giving him the beating he threatened her with.

Having had a lifetime of men using her Celie turns to Shug (Joanna Francis), a travelling jazz singer and starts a lesbian affair with her.

The first half of this musical is a litany of unrelenting domestic abuse and I found it difficult to watch. It seemed that the characters had barely shaken off the oppression of the old slave masters than they were trapped in a similar cycle of abuse by their own kind. The women especially seem to be controlled by both their menfolk and the church.

However, the second half starts to pick up as Celie finally finds her voice, breaks free of Albert's cruelty and goes to live with Shug and her latest lover in Memphis, far from her roots in Georgia. With freedom she also discovers she has a gift for making pants and returns to open a shop left to her by her step father.

T'shan Williams as Celie has a voice to bring the house down, which she does spectacularly with I'm Here, especially. Much needed comic lightness is provided by Karen Mavundukure as Sofia (the Oprah Winfrey role in the film).

Writing a musical about such awful unrelenting abuse and making it entertaining must have been very difficult but you do come out of the theatre feeling that at least Celie has found peace and is her own woman

The set is very clever, a clapboard background that has various rooms sliding in and out while animations are projected onto it for effect.

This musical, originally produced on Broadway in 2005, is based on the Steven Spielberg film of 1985 starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. This in turn was taken from the original 1982 book by Alice Walker.

The Color Purple is at Curve until 13 July when it moves to Birmingham Hippodrome on 16 July. Tickets are still available

Curve: http://curveonline.co.uk
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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Dear Sir by Ross Thomson

Review by: Paul Towers, 21/6/19

A Ten 29 Theatre production

Upstairs @ The Western, 21 June 2019

"What Makes A Man a Man."

We all look back at our lives and wonder what would have happened if we had taken a different path, made a different decision.

In Dear Sir 20-something Ross writes a series of letters to his younger self showing where he may have taken the wrong path and where he maybe worried too much.

Growing up in Scotland Ross was pressured from an early age to 'be a man', act manly, treat women in a certain way (very appropriate for the #MeToo generation's sensibilities). Like so many young men he allowed himself to be swept along on that false premise of what a man should be. And of course he made mistakes. Fortunately not ones that hurt anyone else. However they did hurt his mental health.

Dear Sir is a very personal examination of  how those pressures and expectations can damage you.

Alongside the letters to his younger self, Ross uses a fairy tale to illustrate how imagination, fantasy and delusion can so easily combine to throw you onto the shipwrecked rocks of life if you are not careful and mindful.

This cautionary tale could so easily have been titled What Makes A Man a Man, especially as Ross finally finds his peace as a gay man. In turns thought provoking and funny this should be required viewing for all teenagers to reassure them that it will be alright in the end, if you let it.

Ten 29 Theatre - https://www.ten29theatre.com/

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
 

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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Our House by Tim Firth, music & lyrics by Madness

A CYC, Made At Curve production directed by Alex Sutton

Curve 30 – 31st May 2019

Review by: Paul Towers, 30/5/19

‘funny, musical and energetic.

When the original show premiered in London's West End in 2002 it won an Olivier Award and has toured both nationally and internationally since. It is an ideal show for young theatre groups like Curve's CYC as it can have as large a cast as you want and there are plenty of roles for good singers and actors.

The story of the show is of  Joe Casey, a 16 year old trying to impress girlfriend Sarah. He breaks into a building development to find something to sell but the police turn up. Taking its inspiration from Sliding Doors, Joe's life splits into two very different directions. Good Joe (here played by Sam Cooper) stays and gives himself up to the police and his life follows his father's into prison and dead end jobs. Bad Joe (Tom Morley in fine voice) runs away and leaves girlfriend Sarah (Fae North) to fend for herself. On the face of it Bad Joe makes something of himself while Good Joe languishes in the gutter. However Good and Bad turn out not to be what you think.

There is a huge and hugely talented cast of 33 in Curve's studio space on a versatile set that includes an onstage band. Of course none of the cast will have had the faintest idea who Madness were before they started working on this show but I hope they now have an appreciation of the musical heritage that we had in the 80's

There are plenty of Madness songs spread throughout the narrative and each one could almost have been written for the musical. Author Tim Firth is responsible for Calendar Girls and Kinky Boots so it is no wonder the show is infused with both comedy and pathos.

This is a funny, musical and energetic trip down memory lane for those of us old enough to remember the 80's and a musical education for millennials.

Our House is at Curve again tomorrow (Friday 31st May 2019) with a few seats left.

Curve:  www.curveonline.co.uk
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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Review by: Paul Towers, 17/05/19

Romeo and Juliet by Matthew  Bourne after William Shakespeare

A New Adventures production

Curve 13 – 18 May 2019

'spectacularly, energetic and innovative'

The world premier of any work is something to be proud of. When it is a new Matthew Bourne ballet and is at Curve then Leicester can justifiably preen itself and crow from the rooftops.

We all know the rough story of Shakespeare's most popular play in his lifetime. Boy meets girl, warring families refuse to let the lovers be together, lovers die together. In these times of religious tensions the story resonates even more than usual.

Bourne has reimagined and relocated the story to Verona Institute, a place where boys and girls are segregated, kept apart by sadistic guards led by Tybalt.

The set is typically spectacular, a curved wall of white tiles with prison gates in it and a balcony running up both sides. High above the sterile main room is a huge stained glass roof which lowers at appropriate times in the story.

Prokofiev's atmospheric score is based around what we TV addicts will recognise as The Apprentice theme and reflects the emotional turmoil that thwarted lovers feel.

A hugely talented young cast are led by Paris Fitzpatrick as Romeo and Cordelia Braithwaite as Juliet. The main villain of the piece, Tybalt, is danced malevolently by Dan Wright. As well as the main New Adventures cast of 19 there are also 6 Leicester Young Company cast members. Each stop on the tour will have similar local new artistes who will have been trained and coached by New Adventures for the last year in order to appear in this new ballet.

There is a live orchestra of 19 at every performance which adds depth to the sound of this spectacularly, energetic and innovative ballet.

The entire run at Curve sold out within hours of going on sale so there are no tickets for tomorrow's final two performances. Your only hope is to call the box office and pray for returns. But don't hold your breath. If you are not lucky then look at booking at Northampton from 28th May.

Curve – www.curveonline.co.uk
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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Enron by Lucy Prebble

Review by: Paul Towers, 16-May-19

A Curve & De Montfort University co-production

Curve 15 – 18th May 2019

"a depiction of corporate greed and avarice."

Enron is the story, warning of what can go wrong when corporate companies are given free reign with few regulations.

Back in the 90's Enron was a moderately successful company supplying gas to Texans. As the millennium approached and deregulation freed it from Government scrutiny it spread its influence into electricity, natural gas, pulp, paper and communications, hoping to ride along the burgeoning broadband industry. To finance all this expansion it used some very creative accounting methods to wildly over value the company. Complicit in this long term financial fraud were the management, auditors and accountants all of whom ultimately paid the price with jail sentences.

Lucy Prebble's play, a major hit in London's West End fared less well on Broadway and can be likened to The Wolf Of Wall Street in its depiction of corporate greed and avarice. This production is part of the continuing nurturing of talent at De Montfort University that Curve has been committed to for the last decade.

The ambitious set, designed by Kate Unwin, of four levels created with steel poles provides the many rooms needed. It is draped underneath with lots of wires further illustrating the technology at the heart of Enron. TV screens around the upper perimeter show rolling financial reports from stock exchanges and periodically snap to live TV broadcasts of events.

The large talented cast of students performed with alacrity in a variety of costumes.

This production is directed by Jonathan Martin who has gathered around him a talented crew including sound designer Dave Norton and lighting designer Jonny Laidlow.

Enron is at Curve until Saturday 18th May

Curve:  www.curveonline.co.uk
Paul towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres, adapted by Rona Munro

Directed by Melly Still

Review by: Paul Towers, 18/04/19

A Rose Theater, Kingston  and Birmingham Rep co-production

Curve 13 – 20 April 2019 and then touring

"a 3 hanky tear-jerker"

When the novel of Captain Corelli's Mandolin was first published in 1994 it was a moderate hit, especially with readers of romantic fiction. However it was the film starring Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz that cemented its reputation as a 3 hanky tear-jerker. The stage version has lost none of its emotional pull and, along with vivid depictions of the war in the Greek island of Cephallonia, you walk away drained.

Dr Iannis lives on the beautiful, peaceful island with his daughter, Pelagia, who is being courted by fisherman, Mandras. All things being equal she will eventually marry her fisherman and live fairly happily ever after.

But, this being 1941, war looms ever nearer as Italy and Germany invade the island with devastating effect. Many of the locals are killed, Mandras has gone off to fight and Pelagia falls, against her better judgement, for the handsome Italian Captain, Corelli. As with all the best romances difficulties stand between the lovers but it all sorts itself out in the end.

A stellar cast is led by Madison Clare as Pegalia, Ryan Donaldson as Carlo, Ashley Gayle as Mandras and Joseph Long as Dr Iannis. In the title role of Caprain Corelli is Alex Mugnaioni. The ensemble are almost balletic in their manoeuvres as they change the props and play the various villagers and soldiers.

Much needed lightness is provided by Luisa Guerreiro as the goat (you have to be there!) and Elizabeth Mary Williams as a pine martin (I know, but again you need to see it)

The staging is simple but very effective. A large crumpled sheet of metal hangs just above the stage providing an innovative surface for various lighting effects which compliment the visceral sounds of war and earthquake.

For anyone who is a fan of either the book or the film this is a must see production and continues to tour til at least June. Full details at www.CaptainCorellisMandolin.com

 www.Curveonline.co.uk

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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Zigger Zagger by Peter Terson

Review by: Paul Towers, 11/04/19

A Made At Curve production directed by Mandeep Glover

Curve Studio 11 – 13 April 2019

"hugely talented cast of mostly under 15's"

 Back in 1967 new playwright Peter Terson penned this definitive illustration of the psychology behind football club worship and the resulting hooliganism for the National Youth Theatre.

I remember seeing the BBC production in 1967 and was struck by the visceral reality of working class tribalism in a way that had never been seen on television at the time.

Specifically designed for the theatre, and especially youth groups, it works best with a large cast and a fairly bare stage. With Curve's backing the set is a lot more than minimal giving the large cast of 27 from the Curve Young Company 12+ plenty of room to people the community of fans.

1960's teenager Harry Philton (William Hutchins), only son of a single mother (Ethan Tannahill), has drifted through school with only his Saturday visits to his beloved football club with best mate Zigger (Max Strong) to look forward to. Zigger is a less than perfect influence.

Harry has reached that point at school where he has to make a decision as to what his future will be. He toys with the army but fails the medical. Is football to be the only worthwhile thing in his life?

The hugely talented cast of mostly under 15's show lots of promise for the future of  young actors and several will, I am sure, make their mark both locally and nationally if they so wish.

Zigger Zagger is on at Curve until Saturday 13th April

www.curveonline.co.uk

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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The Addams Family by Marshall Brickman &  Richard Elice, music & lyrics by Andrew Lippa

Review by: Paul Towers, 09/04/19

A LOPS production

Leicester Little Theatre 9-13 April 2019

"spooky and macabre"

The Addams Family sprang from the feverish imagination of Charles Addams, a graphic artist in 1930's New York. As a sideline to his main job of doctoring corpse pictures, he amused himself with suitably dark one-frame cartoons. Eventually they were collated into a book and published. One book was called Addams and Evil and The Family was born.

In 1962 a TV producer saw the potential for the characters to become a sit com, albeit a bizarre one.. It took 2 years but eventually ABC in America broadcast it and it ran for 2 seasons spawning copies like The Munsters.

In the 90's the brand was resurrected for a couple of successful feature films in 2007 and finally made it to Broadway in 2010 as a musical which toured in the UK from April to November 2017.

LOP's amateur production includes all of the original characters, even Thing, the disembodied hand, makes a cameo appearance on the interval animated backcloth.

Uncle Fester (Neil Prior doing a very credible impersonation of Christopher Lloyd) serves as narrator. Morticia (Alexandra Elliot) and Gomez Addams (David Lovell) are the proud parents of Wednesday (Danielle Cherise Smith) and Pugsley (Carla Smith cast trendily gender blind). Lucas Beineke (Matt Barton) is Wednesday's fiancée.

The set is suitably spooky and the macabre costuming sets the mood.

An onstage orchestra is hidden behind a projection screen which, innovatedly for the Little Theatre, has animations for scene changes

The Addams Family is at The Little Theatre until Saturday 13th April

Leicester Little Theatre - https://www.thelittletheatre.net/

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

 

The Comedy About A Bank Robbery by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer & Henry Shields

A Mischief Theatre production

Review by: Paul Towers, 26 March 2019

Curve 26 – 30 March 2019

"an evening of laughs and spills"

For anyone who has seen The Play That Goes Wrong or Peter Pam Goes Wrong you know exactly what to expect from a Mischief Theatre show and Bank Robbery does not disappoint.

This time a step has been taken away from the premise of the amateur drama group's mishaps into the realm of American caper films.

The opening scene is very reminiscent of a Brian Rix farce but brought right up to date with a superbly written and acted cross talk routine executed at speed and to great effect. From there the mishaps pile higher and higher as our dozy trio, newly released from jail, try and organise the theft of a diamond from the local bank (OK don't try and follow a plot, just revel in the extraordinary silliness of it all). Along the way there are impossibly unbelievable mistaken identities, lots of slamming of doors, fold up beds and physical comedy. Oh, and don't forget the seagulls. Very important plot points!

The scenery, designed by David Farley, is a logistical marvel as it slides on and off, folds in and out and, unusually for a Mischief Theatre show, doesn't fall over.

The second half has two of the most inventive set pieces I have ever seen on stage. A gravity defying routine whereby we look down on an office seems impossible; the other stand out scene involves a Mission Impossible style heist from the ceiling of the bank as three people descend to snatch the diamond.

The cast, especially the main actors, are very physical and never missed a stunt or punch. Fight director Kevin McCurdy must have had his work cut out choreographing it all.

Liam Jeavons as Mitch Ruscitti, Sean Carey as Sam Monahan and Jon Trenchard as Warren Slax lead a very hard working and talented cast of 14

Right from the moment the lights went down the laughs started and didn't stop til the curtain call. Mischief Theatre lives up to its name with an evening of laughs and spills.

The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is at Curve until Saturday 30th March but there are only limited tickets remaining so book as soon as you can.

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

 

Janet by Helen Ainsworth, directed by John Mowat

Review by: Paul Towers, 23/3/19

Upstairs @ The Western, 23 March 2019

"surreal and off the wall puppetry

In amongst the regular evenings of poetry, spoken word and improv Upstairs at The Western has booked some quite surreal, off the wall shows. Janet is one such entertainment.

Helen Ainsworth is a puppeteer who specialises in using everyday things as well as traditional puppets to tell stories. John Mowat is a performer/director and has been working with Helen for 5 years. Together they appeal to both adult and child audiences. Janet is definitely for the grown ups.

Set in a kitchen Helen manufactures characters from utensils and bread dough to tell the tortured tale of the union between an over-critical mother (Premium French Flour) and a less than faithful father (a 1950's milk churn). After nature takes its course Janet, a lump of bread dough, is the result. Despite her refusal to follow her destiny and a torrid encounter with Derek (a rolling pin) Janet ends up as a very nice round of cucumber sandwiches which the audience very much appreciated.

Ainsworth, hidden behind an over large chef's hat and dressed in chef's whites, uses an array of accents to tell the story as well as making a typical baker's mess all over the floor.

Future performances and details of other shows can be found at www.helenandjohn.co.uk/

 Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
 

 http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

 

Madagascar The Musical

Review by: Paul Towers, 5/3/19

A Selladoor Family & Hartshorn-Hook production

Book By Kevin Del Aguila Music & Lyrics by Geoge Noriega & Joel Someillan

Haymarket Theatre , Leicester 5 – 9 March 2019

"loud, bouncy and bright."

One of every child's favourite movies to watch on a rainy Saturday morning is the madcap Madagascar, the tale of four animal friends who escape from New York's Central Park zoo and find themselves in the tropical paradise of Madagascar.

Based on the original Dreamworks animated movie this is the live stage version currently touring nationwide.

The cast is led by 2016 X Factor winner Matt Terry as Alex in a variety of animal costumes as they sing and dance their way to 'freedom'.

Alex is a lion and as such is the king of the zoo, with an ego to match. His best friend is Marty a slightly camp zebra and along with ballsy hippo Gloria and Melman the neurotic giraffe they break out of the safe zoo for an adventure. Unfortunately they get captured and shipped off the Madagascar.

This is a perfect introduction for young theatre goers, loud, bouncy and bright with a storyline that doesn't need to be followed too closely and is stuffed full of songs, including the eponymous 'Move it, move it'. It has the added advantage that the halves are not too long so fidgety children won't get bored.

Along with the adult skinned actors there are a load of cute puppets, penguins, marmosets and chief villain, King Julien.

I wish I could give the supporting actors their due credit but I wasn't supplied with a programme or cast list. You will just have to go and see for yourself, and I recommend the show for every child and their adult. They will have a blast!

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins, adapted by Rachel Wagstaff & Duncan Abel

Review by: Paul Towers, 04 March 2019

A Simon Friend, Ambiln Partnership & Josh Andrews presentation

Curve until Saturday 9th March 2019

"thrilling as the wait for a Southern Rail commuter service."

The 2015 book by Paula Hawkins was a bestseller within a couple of months of being published in 2015. It was made into a film in 2016 and became a stage play in 2018.

While the book, apparently, was a multi layered psychological thriller the stage version is plodding, boring and uninspiring.

Rachel (Samantha Womack) is an ex-commuter who continues to take the train into town long after she has lost her job and looks in other people's back gardens fantasising what her life might be like. It is while voyeuristically eavesdropping that she notices neighbour Megan (Kirsty Oswald) kissing a man who is not her husband. So far very Hitchcock's  Rear View and Agatha Christie's 4.50 to Paddington. Megan disappears, presumed dead, and Rachel selectively remembers being in the vicinity of the last sighting. Already I am bored rigid.

As the 'curtain' rose there was a scene with ex-husband Tom (Adam Jackson-Smith) in Rachel's pig sty of a flat to, I suppose, show what an alcoholic slob she is. I never really got to the bottom of why Rachel was so central to finding the killer and why her drinking was so important. I won't spoil the ending because for a whodunit I really didn't care whodunit.

The laborious script only came to life in the last 10 minutes by which time I had lost the will to live. It was only saved by the occasional flashes of humour which appeared to be accidental rather than scripted.

All of the cast were quite adequate actors, most of them were actually able to project past the first 10 rows in the stalls.

The set was the most exciting thing in the whole production with imaginative lighting (most of the time) and a suitably atmospheric soundtrack. Although it was unclear why the therapist's chairs came down from the ceiling on cables rather than slid across the stage like everything else.

All in all The Girl On The Train was as thrilling as the wait for a Southern Rail commuter service.

Tickets for the rest of the week are available at www.curveonline.co.uk

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

 

Feel by James Lewis

Review by: Paul Towers, 1/3/19

Produced by Mitchell Reeve, directed by David Brady and performed by Anthony Fagan, Gabrielle Nellis-Pain, Emily Costello, Colin Hubbard

Upstairs @ The Western, 1st & 2nd March 2019

"emotional, funny and very believable"

 A double bed dominates the stage. It is made, ready for action. Two couples' lives intersect, burn brightly for a while and then fade.

Nick and Karen have been on the same train platform for months but, in the typically British way, have never spoken. Until the day they both end up on the same bench. Karen, irritating and bored with life, bugs Nick til he relents and actually has a conversation with her.

Naomi and Jamie meet in a bar and, drunkenly, stumble back to his flat. In the preparation for the inevitable tumble under the duvet Nick finds the emotion overwhelming so they sit up all night talking. In fact they spend weeks talking. Just nothing more.

Each of the four, in their own ways, are damaged. Nick has major health issues which he tries to ignore; Karen is stuck in a boring job because she is too scared to chase her dreams; Naomi has shut down emotionally after the death of her father and Jamie is just neurotic. Each of them tries to mend their relationships when really they should be mending themselves first.

This is a beautifully scripted drama of two parallel couples trying to sort their lives out. Creative staging means that the action alternates between the couples like a split screen. The scene changes are beautifully choreographed so that props and furniture can be moved and placed in near darkness.

The acting is superb, emotional, funny and very believable.

Feel is on at Upstairs at The Western again tomorrow, Saturday but with very few tickets left.

More information about the ongoing tour can be found at https://www.proforca.co.uk/feel

Upstairs at The Western: http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
 

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

 

American Idiot by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer,
music by Green Day, lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong

A Selladoor Production

Review by: Paul Towers, 26/2/19

Haymarket 26 February – 2 March 2019

"energising and anthemic."

I first saw the cult rock show that is American Idiot 3 years ago when it toured and hit Curve. At the time I found it energising and anthemic. My view hasn't changed in the intervening years. This touring version retains the energy and innovation of the original with some noticeable tweeks, especially to the set.

American Idiot started out as a concept album by punk band Green Day. Additional songs by the band were added as the story was expanded into a full stage musical. Symptomatic of American youth of the early 20th century, our anti heroes are searching for a way to escape their soul destroying non-lives.

Jonny (Tom Milner) is the main protagonist of our band of disillusioned American teenagers reeling from the cataclysmic disaster of 9/11. He lurches from one disaster to another with his heroin addiction ultimately losing him the love of his life. Tunny (Joshua Dowen) is Jonny's best friend but rather than falling down the rabbit hole of drug addiction he joins the military where he is seriously injured and loses a leg. The silver lining is that he finds true love with his nurse. Will (Samuel Pope), the last of the triumvirate, has his dreams of travel and escape thwarted when his girlfriend falls pregnant and he opts to do the decent thing and be a father.

As we took our seats a TV screen showed snippets of newsreels from 2001; George Bush, the twin towers, the resultant misery. They all contributed to our trio's despair and sense of worthlessness.

The show opened with a bang as the punk rock soundtrack blasted out the title track, American Idiot, and the stage filled with dancers. The choreography by Racky Plews sizzles as the exuberant cast bounce around. Creative lighting design by Tim Deiling makes sure that every inch of the complicated set is used and highlighted whenever needed.

Not everything is hearty and entertaining, although there are quite a few laughs shoe-horned in. One very brave moment, well more than a moment, occurs when Jonny graphically shows the horror of trying to find somewhere to inject his desperate fix of heroin. The silence and explicitness is terrifying and the entire audience held its breath for him. Nonetheless you come away with a sense that, despite the horrors of their journeys, these youngsters may very well end up making something of themselves.

American Idiot is on at Haymarket Theatre until Saturday 2nd March

Tickets are available at www.haytheatre.com, but hurry as some days are almost sold out

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

 

Gypsy Queen by Rob Ward

Review by: Paul Towers, 25/2/19

Produced by Emmerson & Ward with Hope Theatre Company, directed by Adam Zane

Curve 25 February 2019

"tight, energetic and hilarious"

The last event for DMU Pride at Curve is the award winning Gypsy Queen.

Dane 'The Pain' Samson is the son of a boxer, a potential champ. He is gay. All his mates at the gym know, his dad knows. But no-one talks about it so long as he is discreet. He has a regular partner, sort of, but the relationship is confined to the bedroom. God forbid they get seen in public together.

'Gorgeous' George O'Connell is a bare knuckle fighter wanting to go legit and become a boxer. He is beginning to realise that girls are not for him. Oh, and George is a traveller, one of the most unforgiving communities when it comes to not being straight.

When these two meet sparks fly and love blossoms.

Rob Ward has written an illuminating tale of colliding worlds played out in the most masculine of environments, the world of boxing. You can almost smell the testosterone as these two toned fighters circle each other before falling into bed together. Although there is a lot of serious fighting going on (verbal and physical) there are also a lot of laugh out loud moments, especially from Mother O'Connell, matriarch of the traveller family.

Just two actors, author Rob Ward and Ryan Clayton, swap characters at an alarming rate, switching accents and costumes sometimes merely by turning around. Director Adam Zane has created a tight, energetic, hilarious staging of a play that should be required viewing for all youngsters in all communities.

The final stop of the current tour is in Ipswich on Thursday but further information can be found at www.gypsyqueentour.com

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

 

Pretty Evil by Rhodri Hales, produced by Hivemind Theatrical Solutions

Review by: Paul Towers, 21/2/19

A Leicester Comedy Festival presentation

Upstairs @ The Western, 21-22 February 2019

"the love child of Austin Powers and Monty Python"

Costumed villains have been defeated and the world, or at least this little bit of England, is costume villain free. Until, that is, three wannabee villains in shoddy costumes get together to try and bring evil back to the world. Very quickly on the case is Diane Newsmore, a dodgy news anchor more at home on Fox News and with just as much of a grip on actual facts.

Add into the mix two community support workers tasked with getting to the root of the costumed felons' use of the community centre and you have the love child of Austin Powers and Monty Python in the ludicrously hilarious capers in comic book adventures.

Author Rhodri Hales plays Dr Thunder, the 'brains' behind the gang; Lucy Ann Jones is The Lady Killer, the cynical, world weary one just making up the numbers and Matt Garside is Mega Matt, the completely clueless one with lame ideas. Three more actors make up the company.

Pretty Evil is on at Upstairs at The Western tonight.

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

Drip, words by Tom Wells, music by Matthew Robins

Review by: Paul Towers, 20/2/19

Performed by Josh Tucker, directed by Jane Fallowfield

A Script Club & Boundless Theatre presentation for DMU Pride

Curve 20 February 2019

"a sweet, undemanding story of teenage angst”

Liam is 15, gay and geeky. None of which really bothers him except he wants to fit in at school. To that end he allows his best friend Caz to inveigle him into being part of her synchronised swimming display for the Project Prize at school. The only problem is that Liam can't swim. But help is on the horizon in the shape of  his slightly older crush who volunteers to give him swimming lessons. Over thinking everything, Liam tries his hardest not to let his bestie down.

Despite this being part of DMU Pride Liam's sexuality has absolutely no bearing on the story. Which is as it should be.

Josh Tucker as Liam has just the right hesitant delivery to make his portrayal believable. A gently witty script is augmented by a raft of original songs played by Tucker on a guitar. All in all a sweet, undemanding story of teenage angst.

Now we come to the one thing that almost spoiled it for me. Quite a few members of the audience had to be told to stop using their phones during the show. Not only is it incredibly distracting for other audience members but is hugely disrespectful to the actor onstage. My especial ire is reserved for the ignorant girl/woman sat in front of me who, despite being told not to use her phone, continued to check her Facebook and even film parts of the performance.

Full details of Curve's DMU Pride events can be found at https://tinyurl.com/yb4lm4x3 or via the Curve website

The entire schedule of all events for DMU Pride can be found at https://tinyurl.com/ybh4n4v7

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

 

Twin Peaks by Mandy Tootill

Review by: Paul Towers, 19/2/19

Upstairs @ The Western, 19 February 2019

"facing breast cancer with a quip and a filthy joke."

 Throughout Leicester Comedy Festival Upstairs at The Western has hosted a whole raft of shows that highlight mental health issues but Twin Peaks is all about one woman's fight with breast cancer. And what is the best medicine? Laughter.

Mandy Tootill felt a lump 20 years ago while watching Coronation Street (the details only bear repeating on a stage!). She has now been in remission for 10 years but those intervening 10 years saw the horror and humiliation of chemotherapy, extreme weight loss (not something she regrets) and the inevitable hair loss. The benefit, of course, is that she now has the perky breasts of a 20 year old just as she stumbles into premature menopause brought on my her treatment.

Fortunately her partner is an NHS nurse and that, as she recounts with glee, is like having a hot line to NHS Direct when it comes to needing a medical opinion.

Many women would crumble before the onslaught of cancer, but not Mandy. She faced it full on with humour. As she says, you either laugh or cry and she chose to laugh.

Listening to Ms Tootill smacking cancer in the face with a quip and a filthy joke makes you walk away with the assertion that, should you ever be unfortunate enough to follow in her footsteps, you could, hopefully, battle through in the same in-your-face manner.

Check out her website for further opportunities to catch this savvy Manc on tour.

www.comedy-festival.co.uk

www.mandytootillcomedy.com

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

Those Magnificent Men by Brian Mitchell & Joseph Nixon

An Ornate Johnsons & The Foundry Group presentation for Leicester Comedy Festival

Review by: Paul Towers, 15/2/19Upstairs @ The Western, 15 & 16 Feb 2019

"hilariously entertaining and educational"

Year in year out The Foundry Group return to Upstairs at The Western to tickle our laughter buds with diverse productions such as The Ministry of Biscuits, Gilbert (No Sullivan) and Big Daddy vs Giant Haystacks. This year was a welcome reprise of Those Magnificent Men, a tongue in cheek homage to the bravery, ingenuity and sheer British spunk of aviation innovators John Alcock and Arthur Brown, the first people to fly non stop across the Atlantic Ocean.

In trademark Foundry Group style the daredevil story of daring do is told with a mixture of comedy and drama. We sat in the audience, hearts in our mouths, as the intrepid pair coaxed their converted Vickers biplane (2 tables, a couple of chairs and 4 broom sticks) across more than 1000 miles of fog bound sea with only the most primitive of  instruments to, just, land safely in West Ireland to national acclaim.

Played with relish by the author Brian Mitchell and long time side kick David Mountfield this is an hilariously entertaining and educational story of old fashioned Boys Own adventuring. Both actors play an array of characters, often with outrageously inappropriate accents. As always The Foundry Group stage their shows on a shoestring but the make-do props and scenery only add to the hilarity.

Those Magnificent Men is on again tomorrow (Saturday) with limited tickets available. Grab a seat and prepare for an evening of adventure by the seat of your pants.

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
Details of the continuing tour can be found at www.foundrygroup.co.uk

http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

 

How To Act Windy by Pritchard & Morgan

Review by: Paul Towers, 14 February 2019

Upstairs @ The Western, Thursday, 14 February 2019

"a hilarious misadventure in education"

Schadenfreude is the satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else's misfortune and Katie Pritchard and Eleri Morgan in How To Act Windy deliver that satisfaction in spades.

The two girls were, for some time, reduced to working on a Theatre In Education foreign tour about dinosaurs aimed at children 3-5 years old. This is the edited highlights (lowlights?) of possibly the most inappropriate and badly organised tour ever thrust upon the world's toddlers.

With extracts from the "script" and horror tales of bad organisation the girls drag us through a hilarious misadventure in education. The highlight, of course, is a pair of dinosaurs onstage. Make of that what you will.

Details of future performances can be found at www.katiepritchard.co.uk

Leicester Comedy Festival www.comedy-festival.co.uk

Paul Towers

Sertaline Queen by Pol Penter

Review by: Paul Towers, 11 February 2019

A Leicester Comedy Festival presentation

Upstairs @ The Western, 11 February 2019

"a very funny lady"

Following on from her sold out appearance at the Camden Fringe Pol Penter follows it up with a sold out performance at Upstairs at The Western as part of the Leicester Comedy Festival. The show was so popular that extra seating had to be put in.

In the past no-one talked about mental health and people bottled it up and suffered in silence, often making it far worse. There was little help. Now we are surrounded by people sharing their experiences and allowing conversations to be started and help sought.

Pol Penter suffers with anxiety and depression. Not that you would know it from the almost manic confidence she displays on stage. This is the result of the prescription Sertaline she takes. That and the fact that she can get up on stage and talk about coping with depression.

Although born and bred in Bradford she now lives in London and the north/south divide colours a lot of her comedy to great effect. Working for an American university in the UK also provides her with a rich seam of comedy.

Her tales are interspersed with original songs and the hour flew by.

Catch this very funny lady if you can. Information about upcoming appearances can be found here https://tinyurl.com/y3hhc277

Details of all Leicester Comedy Festival gigs can be found at: https://comedy-festival.co.uk/

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

Upstairs @ The Western, 10 February

Damon Conlan Jocular Prestidigitator

Review by Paul Towers

"hilariously bumbling magic."

Ever since the comedy juggernaut that was Tommy Cooper dropped dead onstage there has been a dearth of  comedic conjurors and magic manipulators. Damon Conlan goes some way to filling that void. His bumbling persona teeters on the precipice of failure throughout his 60 minute set at Upstairs at The Western. But somehow he always manages to save himself from disaster.

Damon likes to call himself a Jocular Prestidigitator because it has long words in it and makes him sound clever. Which he is, though not in the way you immediately think.

With a winning mix of good close-up magic and sarcastic humour Conlan mystifies and entertains as he gently rips the audience apart while often seeming to lose his way. There is lots of audience participation so don't be shy.

Details of future gigs can be found at https://tinyurl.com/yyy55qo3

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

The Barn Ultimatum by Tom Allsopp

Review by: Paul Towers, 06 February 2019

Upstairs @ The Western, 6th February 2019

"a gloriously bonkers story

What would happen if Chicken Run was crossed with Animal Farm? The Barn Ultimatum is what would happen.

This gloriously bonkers story is of a group of animals who, after 20,000 years, have finally twigged exactly why humans feed them and give them clean straw for their beds. Meat.

Cow, chicken and pig get together to try and find out what is going on. Pig definitely knows something is afoot. Chicken is running around like she is headless and cow accuses pig of being paranoid and coming up with ridiculous 'cowspiracy' theories.

Of course all is finally revealed in an equally daft denouement.

The bright and witty script is littered with animal based puns and the tight cast of three (no names available, unfortunately) create mayhem culminating in a fabulously camp fight

Tom Allsop has created an animal world worthy of  Glen Larson at his most bizarre. A hoot from start to finish with a suitably weird soundtrack.

The Barn Ultimatum is the first of Upstairs at the Western's Leicester Comedy Festival shows on over the next 19 days. Most days have two shows, some have three. The website contains the most up-to-date listing.

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
Paul Towers http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

Ghost The Musical by Bruce Joel Rubin, music by Dave Stewart & Glen Ballard

A Bill Kenwright presentation

Review by: Paul Towers, 29 January 2019

Curve – 29 Jan to 2 Feb

"not a dry eye in the house"

We all know the story of the film starring Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg. Ghost The Musical follows the film's story as closely as a stage production can.

Molly (Rebekah Lowings) and Sam (Niall Sheehy) have just moved into a new loft apartment in Brooklyn, New York. It's up and coming, just not quite yet.

Sam works in the city while Molly is a sculptor. Life is good, in fact perfect. They have a solid love. Then disaster strikes and Sam is shot dead in a street mugging. Despite this someone or something decides he has died too early and he lingers in the world between life and death until his destiny is fulfilled. This entails unscrambling the tangled web of deceit woven by his best friend and protecting his beloved Molly from the bad guys.

Both leads, Lowings and Sheehy, have strong singing voices and a good emotional range. Jacqui Dubois as Oda Mae, the happy medium, has an amazing gospelly voice, great comic timing and makes the most of her role as Sam's mouthpiece.

Sam's fine acoustic version of Unchained Melody in the first half, ably accompanied by his guitar playing, sets you up for the tear jerking duet of the same song between Molly and Sam towards the end. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

A company of 14 and a live orchestra of 7 make this a full blooded production. Lots of scene changes and a fair sprinkling of magic made the journey through inclement weather well worth while.

The full house was very appreciative and if you want to catch this touring version then you need to book quickly as the run is almost sold out.

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

www.curveonline.co.uk

JM Barrie's Peter Pan adapted by Will BrentonPeter Pan Leicester

Review by: Paul Towers, 22/12/18

An Imagine Theatre production

DeMontfort Hall 15 December to 6 January 2019

"hugely entertaining family fun"

After the runaway success of Imagine Theatre's Beauty and The Beast last year at DeMontfort Hall they are back with Peter Pan.

This is a pantomime in the very best tradition; a hero, a villain, a dame and a comic.

Back by popular demand are Leicester's very own Sam Bailey (Shoo) and Martin Ballard (Nanny McSmee). They are joined by Britain's Got Talent contestant Kev Orkian as Smee, Cat Sandion (well known from Cbeebies) and Coronation Street's Kevin Kennedy (Curly Watts for those with a long memory!) as Captain Hook at his moustache twirling best.

The juvenile leads are played by Andy Owens as Peter Pan, Kate Eaves as Wendy and Becky Burford as Tinkerbell.

I am sure we all know the story of Peter Pan, the boy who didn't grow up and enticed Wendy Darling and her brothers to Never Never Land where they joined forces with The Lost Boys and defeated dastardly Captain Hook and his pirates.Peter Pan Leicester

All the elements of traditional panto are here in abundance; daring do, sword fights, loads of flying. In between there is all the comedy we expect. The Dame, Martin Ballard, is a past master (mistress?) at getting the audience going in ever more outrageous frocks. Playing her son, Kev Orkian is an accomplished stand up comedian with acres of experience entertaining children of all ages with boundless energy and is a great comedy partner for Sam Bailey's Shoo, the ship's cook.

Lots of scene changes entail acres of backcloths and scenic elements, all of which are rolled on and off De Montfort Hall's ample stage into the cramped wings. On top of this there is the obligatory flying which Andy Owens has obviously mastered with lots of aerial gymnastics. And as with every great pantomime there are loads of songs, both current and old, shoe-horned in for all ages to join in with. S Club 7 and Steps are old favourites but this year's go-to show is The Greatest Showman.

This is hugely entertaining family fun as shown by the fact that the youngest audience members were still in nappies, as were some of the oldest!

Peter Pan runs at De Montfort Hall until 6 January. Best ticket availability are after Christmas

Paul Towers http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

 

Treasure Island adapted by Sandi Toksvig

Review by: Paul Towers, 18/12/18

Lyrics by Jenifer Toksvig, Composer David Perkins, directed by Matthew Forbes

Leicester Haymarket Theatre 13 December to 6 January 2019

"liberally littered with puns and groan-worthy jokes"

Robert Louis Stevenson's book of Treasure Island has been done to death and is a staple of both professional and amateur companies up and down the country at this time of year. So it was with some trepidation that I ventured out on a cold, wet and windy December evening to see Haymarket Theatre's first in-house production since its refurb.

Sandi Toksvig has taken liberal inspiration from The Play That Goes Wrong and set this version in the final dress rehearsal of a cash strapped production in an unspecified regional theatre. This is a genius way of staging a swashbuckling yarn of pirates, high seas and tropical islands with very little scenery or costumes. It also allows for lots of sly digs at less than professional productions. There are loads of local references, not only to Leicester but also to the fact that the Haymarket was dark for 10+ years.

The script bounces deliciously between the main story and the back stage tribulations and deficiencies with the wit that you would expect from Ms Toksvig. Liberally littered with puns and groan-worthy jokes there is plenty for both adults and children to laugh at.

The main cast of 10 adults is supplemented by local children working in three teams on different nights.

I would love to give credit to the various performers in their roles but there is no hint in the programme of who plays what. What I can say for sure is that the two puppets representing the parrot and Ben Gunn were great fun and Gary Lineker's cameo on video elicited a knowing nod to Leicester.

This is an ideal show for all ages with original songs, dance routines and  lots of laughs. Ideal festive fun for everyone.

Treasure Island is on at Haymarket Theatre until 6 January 2019

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

 https://www.haytheatre.com/

 

The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss, adapted by Katie Mitchell

Review by: Paul Towers, 14 December 2018

A Curve & Rose Theatre, Kingston co-production

Curve 8 December 201812 January 2019 and then touring

"The Cat in the Hat IS all that!"

Dr Seuss is America's answer to Roald Dahl, writing anarchic, funny books for young readers. In Dr Seuss' case he aims to encourage pre-schoolchildren to read by using big bright pictures and simple verses and prose.

This musical play, originally produced by The National Theatre, is a lively mix of songs, dances and magic tricks all told in a fun, simplistic way to appeal to all ages from 2 years upwards. Starting with Sam Angell as Boy bouncing on stage and exhorting the audience to join in and sing along with him, this afternoon's pretty full house of mainly pre-schoolers was immediately playing along. And then when Mellissa Lowe as his sister Sally joined him and they had a water fight with SuperSoakers over our heads, the squeals of delight and excitement reached fever pitch.

The story, such as it is, involves Sally and her brother being bored on a rainy afternoon. Conjuring up the legendary Cat in the Hat (Nana Amoo-Gottfired) mayhem ensues as he introduces Thing 1 and Thing 2 (Celia Francis and Robert Penny) into the mix. All three of them display great circus skills, not surprising as the show is created in conjunction with The National Centre for Circus Acts. While the two Things bounce around, up and over the set like hyperactive acrobats, The Cat is the magical ringmaster of the chaos.

The music of Tasha Taylor Johnson was, at times, a little loud but all the actors were amplified so nothing was missed. Charley Magalit as Fish had the most beautiful singing voice, especially as half the time she was encased in a Zorb ball rolling around the stage. The set by Isla Shaw was designed to look like a line drawing waiting to be coloured in and had several surprises built into it.

This is a short show, two 30 minute halves with a 20 minute interval, so is ideal for youngsters with short attention spans. Several of the children today were obviously on the spectrum and were wearing muffling headphones but this didn't seem to detract from their enjoyment of the performance.

With three shows a day on most show days this is a short, snappy festive treat for even the youngest fans. There are especially relaxed performances on Saturday 22nd December and Sunday 6 January

All in all The Cat in the Hat IS all that!

Paul Towers http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

 

White Christmas By Irving Berlin (lyrics & music)  and David Ives & Paul Blake  (book)

Review by: Paul Towers, 14/12/18

Made at Curve, directed by Nikolai Foster, choreographed by Stephen Mears

Curve 6 December to 13 January 2019

"a sure fire festive winner."White Christmas Curve

There was a full house for tonight's Press Night of Irving Berlin's White Christmas on a suitably frosty Friday. Like Gershwin's Crazy For You earlier this year an Irving Berlin score is very distinctive and a guaranteed toe tapper, especially in the expert hands of Curve's Nikolai Foster. Combine that with the set design skills of Michael Taylor and Stephen Mears' distinctive choreography and Curve has a sure fire festive winner.

White Christmas is the 1950's version of a jukebox musical, a series of songs (usually by a single songwriter) gathered together with a tenuous story. Except in the old movies there was a little more attention given to the story.

White Christmas is the story of a couple of ex soldiers who form a double act singing and dancing after the war. They are at a club one night and spot a singing sister act, The Sisters. Bob Wallace (Danny Mac, who still can't keep his clothes on!) is immediately smitten with Betty Haynes (Emma Williams) while Phil Davis (Dan Burton) falls for Judy Haynes. In true musical fashion the path of true love doesn't run smooth. They end up in a remote ski resort (unusually devoid of snow this particular year) and decide to put on a show to try and attract punters to the resort. Of course, in the end, it all works out and the boys pair up with the girls and live happily ever after as the snow finally falls over the mountainside and the entire cast sing White Christmas.Whaite Christmas Curve

This is a hugely festive, feel-good show with an eye catching number of costumes and a huge set that slides in and out, up and down making full use of Curve's extensive capabilities. The cast of 27 plus 13 Curve Young Company performers fill the stage with typically extravagant dance routines which are obviously influenced by Bob Fosse, Gower Champion, Busby Berkley and other great Broadway choreographers.

Some of the best lines belong to Wendy Mae Brown as Martha Watson who plays the concierge of the ski lodge. She also has a belter of a singing voice.

Judging by tonight's full house there will be very few tickets before Christmas. Try for the New Year.

Full details available at www.curveonline.co.uk

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

Now. Here. This - Book by Hunter Bell and Susan Blackwell, and Music and Lyrics by Jeff Bowen

Review by: Paul Towers, 06 December 2018

Four Wheeled Theatre production

Upstairs @ The Western, 5th December to 22nd December

"alternately comic and sad"

Last week I dropped into the dress rehearsal of  Now. Here. This and was impressed. Tonight I saw the first public performance in the theatre. Yesterday afternoon there had been an accessible performance downstairs in the back bar but this was the first in the theatre.

Now. Here. This. is the tale of four friends from the four corners of America who meet up in a Natural History Museum and reminisce about their childhoods and lives. Taken in parallel with the story of evolution their various journeys to adulthood prove to be just as eventful as any species leaving the prehistoric swamps to crawl and fly.

This show is primarily a musical with narrative inbetween. Alternately comic and sad their various lives lead them, eventually, to a commonly bonded friendship circle of support and love.

Sam Hannah, Simon Butler-Little, Kathryn Lenthall and Charlotte-Emily Bond play many parts and sing up a storm with often just a scarf or a coat to change character.

This play is especially appropriate for Upstairs at The Western's intimate performance space as you feel very close to the story.

If you are looking for be entertained without all the tinsel and baubles then this is a perfect evening for you.

Performances are scheduled in the upstairs theatre on the following dates:  13th, 14th, 15th, 20th, 21st and 22nd at 7.30pm. Additionally there will be a promenade performances in the downstairs bar especially for those with mobility issues who can't manage the stairs on 12th December at 2pm. There will also be relaxed performances upstairs in the theatre on 15th and 22nd at 2pm. Full details on the website.

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

Upstairs at The Western: http://upstairsatthewestern.com/

Now. Here. This by Hunter Bell & Susan Blackwell, music & lyrics by Jeff Bowen

Four Wheeled Theatre production

Upstairs @ The Western, 5th December to 22nd December

Show Profile by: Paul Towers, 29 November 2018

"Now. Here. This. - a taste of what is to come."

Upstairs at The Western has taken a huge gamble on staging a single show over the festive period.

Now. Here. This. is a musical from 2012 written OKvery much under the influence of Stephen Sondheim for a tight cast of four.

This is not a review of the show (that will follow next week) but rather a taste of what is to come.

The show is wholly new with original music and lyrics, many of them very witty.

The cast comprise Sam Hannah, Simon Butler-Little, Catherine Lenthall and Charlotte-Emily Bond. The boys have worked with Four Wheel Theatre before but the girls are new to the company.

With a live keyboard accompanied by a backing track this story is based around four friends at a natural history museum in America.

Innovatively the performances are scheduled in the upstairs theatre on the following dates: 6th, 7th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 20th, 21st and 22nd at 7.30pm. Additionally there will be promenade performances in the downstairs bar especially for those with mobility issues who can't manage the stairs on 5th and 12th at 2pm. There will also be relaxed performances upstairs in the theatre on 15th and 22nd at 2pm. This all chimes very well with the management's vow to make theatre at Upstairs much more accessible.

http://upstairsatthewestern.com/

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

 

Spamalot – book and lyrics by Eric Idle, music by John De Prez and Eric Idle

Review by: Paul Towers, 20 November 2018

A Knighton Park Amateur Operatic Society presentation

Little Theatre 20 – 24th November 2018

"this is a very funny show

I guess you have to be into Monty Python to fully appreciate Spamalot. And I am. It was my era.

'Lovingly ripped off' from Monty Python and The Holy Grail Spamalot is a musical adventure that includes loads of Python references, lots of theatrical spoofs and a plethora of sight and music gags.

Right from the moment the music starts and before the curtain has even lifted there are giggles and guffaws to be had. Absolutely nothing is taken seriously from thereon in.

The entire production is full of Python silliness. Even the dead parrot gets a couple of appearances. There are many little sight gags which mean a whole lot to devotees but slightly less to novice Python aficionados. Nevertheless each and every one raises a laugh.

Many of the costumes are intentional jokes in themselves. There is even a guest appearance of Eric Idle as God (on film, obviously)

The stand out performance of the night was Shelley Henry. I remember seeing her in Sister Act at Curve about 4 years ago when she absolutely stole the show. Here she is wonderfully cast as The Lady In The Lake and is given full reign to showcase her amazing vocal skills.

Another great part was Martin Bell's Patsy, sidekick to King Arthur. Very much like Igor, downtrodden, subversive and getting loads of great comic lines.

A huge cast of 34 easily fill the stage of the Little Theatre and provide a professional standard show.

My sole gripe is that whereas you expect one or two audience members with weak bladders to interrupt the show you don't expect it from a member of the production crew. The guy sat in front of me was up and down like a yoyo. If he felt the need to tweak the lights or sound then he should have reserved a back row seat so he didn't disturb other audience members.

That said, this is a very funny, feel good show getting a well deserved standing ovation on the encore of Always Look On The Bright Side of Life, which the audience sang along to.

Spamalot is at The Little Theatre until Saturday 24th November.

http://www.thelittletheatre.net/

Paul Towers http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

Les Miserables based on the Victor Hugo novel.

Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, Lyrics by Herbert  Kretzmer.

Additional material by James Fenton and adapted by Trevor Nunn and John Caird

A Cameron Mackintosh production

Reviewed by Paul Towers

Curve – 3rd November to 24th November

"spectacularly emotional"

Victor Hugo's Les Miserables was set around the 1830 revolution which saw the poor rise up against King Charles X and his obvious bias towards the rich. Hugo's first novel, Notre Dame de Paris featuring the hunch back Quasimodo, was a success and in 1845 he started to write Les Miserables.

Set against the background of the uprising it is a story of the struggle between Jean Valjean and Javert and the love story of Cossette and Marius.

The curtain rises and Valjean is seen coming to the end of a 19 year sentence on the chain gang but struggles to make a living given his background. Javert vows to hunt him down and so begins a lifelong feud.

As much of the story revolves around the enmity of Valjean and Javert it is essential that the parts are cast well. In Killian Donnelly and Nic Greenshield the producers have found the perfect pairing. The other superb casting is Katie Hall's Fantine who broke the hearts of the entire audience when she expired.

Light relief is provided by Martin Ball and Sophie-Louise Dann as the disreputable inn keeper and his wife, the Thenardiers. Their rendition of Master Of The House is a Hogarth painting come to life.

The set, designed by Matt Kinley, is an incredible piece of planning; a jig saw of many pieces that fly in, turn round and drop down to form the various parts of Paris. Two three story towers frame the side of the stage and surprised us all by sliding in and forming a complete street.

Add to this the incredible back projections which not only provide scenic references but are often animated making an escape through the sewers of the city incredibly realistic. The sound and light designed by Mick Potter and Paule Constable add to the atmosphere and are especially effective in the second act depiction of the barricade massacre.

This is a spectacularly emotional musical which is celebrating its 33rd year with an international tour.

The remaining dates at Curve are sold out and your only chance of a ticket is to call the box office in the hope that someone has fallen ill. Next stop Dublin, if you fancy your chances. But, given that Curve sold out within hours of tickets being released, it is unlikely you will be lucky.

Paul Towers  http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

 

Dream On by Kirsty Munro

Review by: Paul Towers, 08 November 2018

Upstairs @ The Western, 8 November 2018

“bonkers show.”

Thursday comedy at Upstairs at The Western this week featured Edinburgh Fringe veteran Kirsty Munro.

This is the (true) story of a bipolar comedian who doesn’t appear to take her medication and has a meltdown during her Edinburgh run.  This is a cabaret show revealing and revelling in the mishaps of a misshapen mind. Embarrassing disasters, losing touch with reality and what not to do when the love of your life just doesn’t fancy you. How to serenade yourself into bed, confessional stories of pulling all nighters and things that go bonk in the night. In this show dreams will come true. Along the way we get Kirsty’s Dirty Dancing with a sex doll, the frustration of a terminal singleton and a chunk of gratuitous nudity. With lots of audience interaction this bonkers show careers to a (fairly) satisfactory finale at a wedding.

Follow Kirsty’s dreams on Twitter @MunroKirsty

Paul Towers: https://ptheatre.blogspot.com/2018/11/dream-on.html

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/

 

Fly Half by Gary Lagden, music by Gareth Moulton

Review by: Paul Towers, 25 October 2018

Upstairs @ The Western, 25th & 26th October 2018

"a classy, emotional story of the allure of rugby."

I have to admit that I am a sucker for a Welsh accent and Gary Lagden's lyrical, almost musical use of  the English language is sublime. Add to this Gareth Moulton's virtuoso guitar playing, atmospheric electric and folksy acoustic soundtrack and this play is almost like an opera.

Fly Half is, as expected, a hymn to the almost religious fervour that the game of rugby engenders in many men, especially in the working class regions of Wales.

As a young boy Darren was anxious to join his father on the terraces of his local club and fulfil his promise of becoming a fly half.

Through the deprivation that hit the town over the years rugby was the one constant, the thing that held the community together. Darren grew up and, sure enough, followed his father onto the team. Along the way he locked horns on many an occasion with the angry team bully, Barry Highland. It was the calming influence of his wife, Sian, that kept him on an even keel. Eventually there was a son, John, a boy to pass his passion for rugby on to. But, in Darren's eyes, John betrayed his rugby roots by being swayed by the corporate hold on the game. But he was still his son.

The passion and disappointment come to the fore as Darren raged about the inequity of  the modern game.

Gary Lagden as Darren has written himself a great part full of  humour, emotion and an obvious love for the game.

Gareth Moulton, sat at the side of the stage with just a couple of guitars, provides a beautiful background soundtrack until he switches to an acoustic instrument to sing original folksy songs as scene changes.

This is a classy, emotional story of the allure of rugby

Fly Half is at Upstairs at The Western again on Friday 26th October. Further performances and full details can be found on https://tinyurl.com/yd97afmf

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

The Frontline by Che Walker

Review by: Paul Towers, 18 October 2018

Made at Curve for Inside Out Festival

Curve, Leicester 17 – 20 October

"a great showcase"

Curve's latest innovative programme for up and coming theatre talent, New Theatre Talent, is supported by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation. This is a 12 month course for young actors who want to work in a professional environment and gain the experience that that will give them. Over the past year they have learnt skills which will stand them in good stead as they go forward to become professional actors.

The culmination of all that work is this showcase performance of The Frontline over 4 days in Curve's Studio space.

A very talented cast of 16 actors tell 12 stories of inner city angst that happen one eventful Saturday night.

There is a clever set of neon doorways designed by Kevin Jenkins which light up in various colours as they are used. I think that better use of stage lighting would have made the various stories more significant and easier to follow. Throughout the production there are several set pieces where the narrative is expanded and explained. Unfortunately there are also several places where shouted cross talk, trying to convey chaos,  means that nothing can be followed. It is just noise.

The text seems to have an identity crisis at times and can't decide whether to be street talk or a lecture, often from the same character in the same speech.

While every member of the cast performed well certain characters were given parts which allowed them to shine more than others. Simon Butler as Mordechai Thurrock, the desperate actor, had a dream part giving comic lightness amidst the dark drama. Med Janneh and Ngozi Ogon as two warring drug dealers enabled Ms Ogon to beautifully channel Kevin & Perry to great comic affect. Ngozi Ogonas also played Beth, although needing to project a little more, she sashayed splendidly across the stage as the  wannabe stripper.

Overall this production gave the alumni of Curve's inaugural New Theatre Talent programme a great showcase allowing them to build characters and present them to an appreciative paying public.

The Frontline ran at Curve until Saturday 20 October.

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

Calendar Girls – The Musical by Gary Barlow & Tim Firth

Produced by David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers and The Schubert Organisation

Review by: Paul Towers, 16 October 2018

DeMontfort Hall 16 – 20 October 2018

"alternately hilarious and poignant in a single breath."

Back in 2003 Tim Firth and Juliette Towhidi wrote a film about an enterprising Women's Institute group in Yorkshire who decided to create a naked calendar to raise funds for a sofa to commemorate the husband of one of their number who had died of leukaemia.

So successful were their efforts that it inspired a film which took off, touching hearts around the world. It was a story of how friends come  together in adversity, support each other and create something wonderful out of tragedy.

Childhood friends Tim Firth and Gary Barlow decided that the story and the film would make a good basis for a musical full of life affirming, empowering songs. And so Calendar Girls – The Musical was born and opened in Leeds in 2015. After a residency in London's West End it has been recast and is out on tour.

Tim and Gary have fashioned a show that is alternately hilarious and poignant in a single breath. The laughs start from the moment the lights go up and continue in waves til the final curtain.

Barlow's songs are a revelation. Dismissed by many as a fluffy pop song-smith his talents as a songwriter shine in this show as he both moves the story along and provides light relief in what could be, in all honesty, a depressing tale. While most of the songs wouldn't stand alone as pop singles they are excellent at doing the job they are written for. Telling a story well and with humour.

The current cast is awash with familiar faces led by one Fern Britton with Ruth Madoc, Sara Crowe, Denise Welch and Ian Mercer to mention just the faces you will know from TV. While their familiarity helps sell tickets and certainly pleased the full audience tonight they are just the tip of the iceberg of talent in this production. There are lots of good comedy performances and several of the leading ladies get their own powerhouse songs to sing.

The set is very impressive and represents a Yorkshire hillside complete with grass and a farm gate. Clever lighting transforms the stage at various times and well balanced sound ensures we hear every word without being deafened.

Calendar Girls - The Musical is at De Montfort Hall until Saturday 20th October. Limited seats are available at https://tinyurl.com/ycb9z4ar

Details of the continuing tour are at https://tinyurl.com/y9ns5bd2

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

Cilla The Musical  by Jeff Pope

Review by: Paul Towers, 09 October 2018

A Bill Kenwright production

Curve Theatre Leicester 9 – 13 October 2018

"Kara Lily Hayworth takes the stage by storm."

When Priscilla Maria Veronica White, aka Cilla Black, died in Spain on 1 August 2015 many thought that that would be that. Her legacy would be 50 odd years of entertaining the great unwashed public, many hours of tapes and DVD's of her TV work, 41 singles and 35 albums. But then her enterprising son, Robert Willis, thought that her life apart from the entertaining was interesting enough to warrant a biographical drama. And so it was that Sheridan Smith donned the trademark red hair to bring her heydays to a whole new audience in 2014.

Cilla The MusicalFrom the success of that TV mini series a full blown musical theatre show was created by the same author, Jeff Pope. Sadly Cilla didn't live to see the finished production but had given her blessing to a first draft.

The story of Cilla's early life is fairly well known to those with an interest in the 60's and 70's music scene. Spotted by Beatles' manager Brian Epstein in Liverpool's Cavern Club the office girl Priscilla White was groomed for a singing career. Besotted Bobby Willis tagged along as her road manager watching as Epstein propelled her to mega stardom. With her sights firmly set on stardom Cilla, as she was now named, strung Bobby along until she suddenly realised she couldn't manage without him and finally married him.

This perfectly illustrates how Pope and Robert Willis don't gloss over some of the less palatable aspects of Black's rise to prominence.

Like the TV series the story is of Cilla's journey up to the moment that Brian Epstein dies in mysterious circumstances leaving a contract for her very first BBC series and thence super stardom.

In the title role Kara Lily Hayworth takes the stage by storm and makes the role her own with, dare I say it, a better voice than the original. Alexander Patmore as Bobby Willis plays the second in command of her career with aplomb while Andrew Lancel's wooden acting style perfectly fits the character of controlling and manipulating Brian Epstein.

A versatile set framed by railway arches and incorporating many drop down flies takes us from the almost poverty stricken Liverpool of Cilla's childhood to the Abbey Road studios and various TV studios.

Neil Macdonald as her father, John, channels Stanley Holloway to good effect. Providing most of the onstage music are Bill Caple, Alex Harford, Joe Etherington and Michael Hawkins as Ringo Starr (very complimentary casting), George Harrison, Paul McCartney and John Lennon respectively. My only criticism would be that the band/orchestra sometimes overpowers Hayworth's voice

While many of the musical numbers are from Cilla's back catalogue there are also quite a few from other influential Mersey Beat artistes like the Beatles, Gerry and The Pacemakers and The Big Three.

This is a joyful musical that tells the story of a poor Liverpool girl who made it big by sheer talent.

Cilla is halfway through a national tour (again) and is at Curve until Saturday 13 October

Details of future tour dates can be found at http://www.cillathemusical.com/

Paul Towers http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

 

The Wipers Times by Ian Hislop & Nick Newman

Review by: Paul Towers, 24 September 2018

A Trademark Touring & Watermill Theatre production

Curve – 24 – 29 September 2018

"a wonderfully comic account of the genesis of satirical publishing."

Gallows humour is the laughs that come from dire circumstances. Funeral Directors are adept at defusing the sadness of their profession with laughter. So, too, are soldiers, especially those on the battlefield, as was expertly portrayed by the film M*A*S*H.Wipers Times

The Wipers Times is a perfect example of humour being used to offset the horrors of the first world war and the task of surviving another day.

Chancing upon an old manual printing press in amongst the bombed out buildings of  Ypres, Fred Roberts and Jack Pierson, by chance having the services of ex printer Tyler to hand, resolve to utilise the dark humour of their situation and produce a morale boosting newspaper; an outlet for their emotions and a chance to satirise the high command.

Often written in those dark, wet nights between shellings and edited under fire, the prodigious output of the contributors was deemed by the authorities to be subversive and undermining of the war effort. Various commands to shut the paper down were ignored or circumvented and it continued throughout the war.

Ian Hislop and Nick Newman have written a wonderfully comic account of the genesis of satirical publishing. An hilarious mix of narrative, songs and dancing take us through the almost non-stop barrage of gunfire as the paper is compiled.

The Wipers Times paper got a fleeting name-check in the film Oh What A Lovely War and the favour is returned with fantasy sequences in homage to that show.

The wonderful programme on sale at Curve is created as a spoof copy of The Wipers Times with satirical poems, advertisements and stories.

A tight cast of 10 are lead by James Dutton and George Kemp as Roberts & Pierson. The set, designed by Dora Schweitzer, is effectively complimented by the sound and lighting effects of Steve Mayo and James Smith to recreate the appalling conditions of a Ypres trench.

The Wipers Times is on tour until December.

Full details on www.wiperstimesplay.co.uk

Paul Towers http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

Speaking After Dinner

Review by: Paul Towers, Thursday, 20 September 2018

Jack Campbell

Upstairs @ The Western, 20 Sept 2018

"2 hours of  comedy."

Tonight, scheduled as Speaking After Dinner with Jack Campbell & Matt Hollins, was replaced at the last minute by Jack Campbell and Friends when Matt went down with some sort of sickness. Get well soon Mr Hollins.Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell MC'd the evening and kicked off with a some skilful audience interaction to warm us up on a stormy Leicester night.

Stepping into the breach were Lovdev Barpaga with a stream of one liners, some new, some old. Lovdev specialises in puns and is the current reigning UK Pun Champion. His set elicited the requisite groans and laughs from an appreciative audience.

Next up was Upstairs's resident comedy workshop tutor, Jason Neale with the tale of a disappointing visit to Twycross Zoo with his 2 year old for the first time. His style is a casual ramble through a personal experience. Hilarious.

After the interval Jack Campbell was back with his experiences on being obsessed with the Wii and golfing.

Danny Clives was a new face to me and had a very self deprecating way of illustrating his perceived shortcomings while trying desperately to get a girlfriend

Finally there was Freddie Ferrell, a self proclaimed fat bearded bloke who still can't believe he has found the love of his life (apart from Big Macs)

This was 2 hours of comedy work in progress and more than worth the £5 entrance fee.

Paul Towers http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/ 

Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/

Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber & TS Eliot

Review by: Paul Towers, 18 September 2018

Leicester Theatre Group presentation

Little Theatre 18 – 22nd September 2018

"hugely talented cast with the confidence of a professional troupe."

Leicester Theatre Group is a Newfoundpool based non-profit organisation created to provide young people aged 11 to 18 with the opportunity to get involved in musical theatre and perform in one of their regular West End style productions, usually at The Little Theatre or the Sue Townsend Theatre. Last year they did Les Miserables and this year it is the turn of Cats.

A huge cast of 42 bring TS Eliot's tales of Jellicle Cats to life on a set designed by Neil Allan that resembles a derelict yard. Ranged round the back is slatted fencing which cleverly allows the various kittens and cats to roam up and down the gantries behind giving the illusion of a community of feral felines.

Director Zoe Curlett is an experienced West End performer and brings a mainstream sensibility to the production. Like Bob Fosse, Gillian Lynne's style of choreography is instantly identifiable and Jessica Vaughan has wisely not deviated far from the original.

In such a large production there is plenty of room for individuals to shine and Maev Wood's Grizabella singing Memories broke everyone's heart.

This hugely talented cast danced and sang with the confidence of a professional troupe.

Cats is at The Little Theatre until Saturday 22nd September but is sold out. Call the box office for any returns.

Paul Towers  http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

 www.thelittletheatre.net

Review by: Paul Towers, 12 September 2018
Ian Fleming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Richard & Robert Sherman, book by Jeremy Sams
A Leicester Amateur Operatic Society production
Haymarket Theatre 11 – 15 September 2018
 
"a spectacularly successful evening's entertainment"
The Leicester Amateur Operatic Society (LAOS) has a reputation stretching back to 1890 for putting on professional quality shows using amateur performers. Their back catalogue covers a wide range of classics and modern shows. This year's production, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, took to the stage in the West End in 2003 and on Broadway in 2005. The touring version ran from 2015 to 2017.
Based on the 1968 film this musical is the story of a single dad bringing up two children and home schooling them alongside their grandfather. The children persuade him to buy a wreck of a car that they have been playing with in a neighbour's back yard. This turns out to be a somewhat famous old racing car which, unbeknownst to them, possesses magical powers. This is why the evil Baron Bombast wants it. Caractacus, the children, grandpa and Truly Scrumptious join forces to defeat the Baron, evade the Child Catcher and free the children of the kingdom.
Unexpectedly written by James Bond creator Ian Fleming and originally filmed by James Bond auteur Cubby Broccoli it was adapted for the screen by Roald Dahl (no surprise there).
As expected LAOS fielded a strong cast led by Darryl Clarke as an energetic Caractacus Potts, Nicole Webb as Truly Scrumptious with Harry Rooney and Rosie Oldman as the children. The scene stealer of the night was Rory, playing Edison the dog. Of course the outright star of the night is the car. And yes it does fly
With loads of sets, lots of back drops and a huge cast of 45 you would expect this to be a spectacularly successful evening's entertainment. While the cast sing and dance up a storm; the sets are wheeled on and off mostly without too much noise. However all the hard work of the cast and crew was spoiled by an appallingly bad and inefficient sound system. All the way through the production the sound either cut out, faded down or blasted out feedback. The providers of the audio system should be ashamed of themselves. All credit should go to the cast who carried on without missing a beat. Professional performers in every way. Hopefully these problems can be rectified.
Paul Towers
http://ptheatre.blogspot.com

Review by: Paul Towers, 08 May 2018

Love From a Stranger by Agatha Christie & Frank Vosper

A Fiery Angel & Derngate Northampton production

Curve 8 – 12 May 2018

"full of red herrings and plot twists."

When you see Dame Agatha Christie's name on a book or play you can be sure that the story will be full of red herrings and plot twists. There will also be plenty of plot holes, but that doesn't matter as the tension is ramped up.

Love From a Stranger started off as a short story called Philomel Cottage, part of The Listerdale Mystery collection. Although Christie went on to write it up as a stage play it was never performed. Actor Frank Vosper, eyeing up a potential lead for himself, created a much tighter version which was a hit in London's West End in 1936.

In the intervening years there have been sundry radio and film versions but this version has brought it bang up to date with technological innovations.

Ostensibly a fairly run of the mill drawing room comedy in the first half, two friends, Mavis and Cecily, have won £50,000 on a sweepstake. A life changing amount in the 1930's. Mavis plans to travel while cautious Cecily is finally able to marry her dull but reliable fiancée of 5 years, Michael. As a result she is looking to rent out her flat. A strange young man, Bruce Lovell (Sam Frenchum), arrives to potentially rent the flat and Cecily (Helen Bradbury) falls head over heels in love immediately.

The second half ramps up the tension as Bruce becomes more and more controlling and finally reveals his hand.

All this would be very standard Agatha Christie, played out in a hundred am dram church halls the length of the country. But here is where Director Lucy Bailey has surprised us all. Gathered around her are designer Mike Britton, lighting designer Oliver Fenwick and sound designed Richard Hammarton. Together they have come up with an innovative set which slides back and forth, much like watching a widescreen film on a regular TV. This enables us to see beyond the immediate stage. Creative lighting and sound really ramp up the psychological tension. Then, just when you think there are no more tricks to keep us on the edge of our seats, a room at the top of the stairs is revealed enabling Bruce to watch and overhear the goings on downstairs. The final plot twists caught us all unawares and gave a blood tingling final curtain.

Love From a Stranger is at Curve until Saturday

www.curveonline.co.uk

http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Review by: Paul Towers, 03 May 2018

A Curve & DeMontfort University co-production

Curve Studio 3 – 5 May 2018

‘A damning indictment of the confluence of  ignorance, bigotry and religious fervour.

Once again Curve has provided facilities and mentoring to De Montfort University's drama and performing arts students to allow them to experience performing before a paying audience in a professional theatre.

This year's offering is Arthur Miller's The Crucible. A damning indictment of the confluence of ignorance, bigotry and religious fervour; a cesspool of intolerance that is all too common even if these supposed enlightened times.

Set at the height of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, a time when the mere whisper of something out of the ordinary could be easily twisted to suit the agenda of those looking for witchcraft at every turn. Miller wrote it in 1953 as a savage satire on the ongoing McCarthy hunt for 'reds under the bed' where yet again the merest hint of non-conformity was twisted to expose so called communist leanings. The paranoia of the Salem Witch Trials has been repeated ad nauseum throughout history and invariably used to explain things not understood.

Played out on a sparse set of four huge suspended blocks, the space between them symbolising the cross of the supposedly welcoming church, the few props are brought on and off by hand. Creative lighting changes the time of day and the mood of the action. A largely subdued soundtrack subtly signals impending crises.

The cast of fairly inexperienced actors do a great job but a couple stand out as ones to watch in the future. Ransford Boi as John Proctor has great stage presence and good clear diction and projection; Calum Harris as Deputy Governor Danforth holds centre stage for most of the second half and has the personality to do so.

The Crucible is on at Curve until Saturday www.curveonline.co.uk

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

 

Review by: Paul Towers, Tuesday, 01 May 2018

The Little Mermaid by David Nixon OBE

A Northern Ballet production with music by Sally Beamish

Curve until 5th May 2018

'Abigail Prudames as Marilla is a beautifully expressive dancer.'

As part of its 2018 national tour Northern Ballet returned to Leicester's Curve  with this new production of The Little Mermaid. Based in Hans Christian Andersen's original fairytale David Nixon has eschewed the saccharine of Disney's version and gone for the darker, more moralistic original.

Little Mermaid Ballet

Marilla, Abigail Prudames, is the youngest daughter of Lord of the Sea, Lyr, danced by Matthew Topliss. Marilla's older sisters are deemed old enough to venture up to the surface to witness the wonders of the land but she must stay in the safety of the deep sea. Upon their return they discard a locket they have found and Marilla picks it up, opens it and falls in love with the human pictured inside. Bothered by her obsession with the human her father, Lyr, conjures up a storm which wrecks the boat of the sailors above. Marilla rushes to the surface and manages to rescue the almost dead sailor of her locket, Prince Adair (Joseph Taylor). Having fallen in love with Adair Marilla convinces Lyr to give her a potion to allow her to live on land. The downside is that once she has lost her tail she will be in permanent pain in her legs and she will lose her beautiful singing voice. Suffice to say this ultimately ends in tragedy thus proving that you should be very careful what you wish for.

The set is beautiful; a pair of huge asymmetrical walls that are turned around and around to provide both shore rocks and water walls. This effect is greatly enhanced by creative lighting. Under the sea are some marvellous jellyfish and large fish on poles.

The music, provided by a live orchestra and singer Stephanie Irvine as the voice of the mermaid, is original and especially created for this piece. While most of it was gently complimentary of the dancing there were times when portentous bass drum rolls were inappropriate.

When it comes to the dancers Abigail Prudames' Marilla, the titular Little Mermaid, is a beautifully expressive dancer whose talent shines throughout the piece. She is superbly complimented by Joseph Taylor as Adair and Matthew Topliss as Lyr. Every one of the ensemble are a credit to the company.

This is a beautifully performed new ballet that will, I am sure, remain in their repertoire for many years to come.

Full details of the tour can be found at www.northernballet.com

Paul Towers:  http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

Pals by Jason Gerdes, inspired by real war diaries

Review by: Paul Towers, Thursday, 12 April 2018

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 skilfully 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 www.northsouththeatre.weebly.com

 Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/ 

Paul Towers http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

The Changing Rooms

7th March 2018

The Changing Room by Chris Bush and Shooting Truth by Molly Davies

Directed by Paul Rogers & Kieran Vyas respectively

A Made at Curve production in conjunction with National Theatre Connections

Review by: Paul Towers, 06 March 2018

Curve Studio, Leicester 6 - 7 March 2017

'immensely talented youngsters'

This was a double bill of productions under the umbrella of the National Theatre Connections initiative which is one of the UK's largest celebrations of youth theatre whereby plays are commissioned for and about young people by contemporary playwrights. These plays are then performed in schools and theatre groups all over UK and Ireland by young performers.

The Changing Room was the more contemporary and experimental piece. Set in and around a swimming pool, the accomplished ensemble cast attempted to vocalise through spoken word and song what it is to be a teenager on the brink of adulthood. Each actor was given a chance to shine with various frustrating moans about being misunderstood. At the same time they were trying to elbow their way into a place in their society. As everyone who has gone through that (and we all did) it is a very confusing phase in life. But, we do all come out the other side and, in retrospect, the angst is worth it.

Each and every one of those on stage gave 100% and, considering this was their first public performance, did a great job.

Shooting Truth was completely different. Taking some inspiration from The Blair Witch Project this was a clever blend of past and present as a school film crew set out to make a movie about a witch called Freya from the 17th century. The present was frequently funny while the past got progressively scary as bigotry reared its ugly head.

As the tale progressed past and present got more and more entangled until they clashed horrifically. Once again the talented cast (completely different from the first piece) were terrific, especially the lad that played the film director.

Again Curve Young Company have proved what an immensely talented young community Curve continues to nurture.

Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk