Reviews

Table Manners by Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by Russell Hughes

Produced by Leicester Drama Society

Review by Paul Towers, 10/6/24

At The Little Theatre until Saturday 15th June 2024

"Hilarious goings-on behind suburban curtains"

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://thelittletheatre.co.uk/

https://ptheatre.blogspot.com/ 

Pics: Mary Jayne Harding Scott

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Cirque – The Greatest Show

Leicester’s Curve 30-31 May 2024

Produced by Entertainers

Co-Producers James Taylor & Max Fox

Choreographed by Lynsey Brown.

Review by Richard Perry

“impressive live in your face entertainment”

Over the weekend Cirque – The Greatest Show glitter bombed its way on the main stage of Leicester’s Curve.

Two hours of modern musical numbers from film and theatre mixed with comedic mime and daring-do-from a team of athletic dancers and singers made the time fly.

If you’re a fan of musical theatre and the circus, this is the show for you as the cast belt out numbers from The Greatest Showman, LaLa Land, Rocketman and Moulin Rouge while dancers, contortionists, aerialists and illusionists all showcase their considerable skills to the delight of the audience.

Singing was spot on led Max Fox, the sound was excellent, and the show moves quickly from one well-rehearsed set piece to another mainly anchored by the award-winning Christian Lee’s scruffy and very funny mime.

As someone who has struggled to do the occasional pull-up, I was a little jealous of the strength and grace of the aerialists as they manoeuvred their way through and around a hanging gizmo above the stage.

The somewhat risky escapades with a cross bow didn’t quite go as planned as firing a bolt at 300+ feet per second through the edge of a piece of paper, being held up by an assistant, can be tricky but that doesn’t matter; it’s still impressive live in-your-face entertainment.

Cirque-The Greatest Show is currently touring across the UK, but I suspect it’ll be back at Curve before too long.

https://cirqueshow.co.uk/tour-dates/

https://www.curveonline.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

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Dangerous Corner by J B Priestley

Directed by John Ghent

Produced by Leicester Drama Society

Review by Paul Towers, 29/4/24

At The Little Theatre until Saturday 4th May 2024

"the plot twists will make you gasp"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pics: Poyner & Mee

www.thelittletheatre.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

 

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Blood Brothers by Willy Russell

Directed by Bob Tomson & Bill Kenwright

Produced by Bill Kenwright Ltd

Review by Paul Towers, 23/4/24

At Curve til Saturday 27th April 2024

"the perfect piece of musical theatre"

Set in 1960's Liverpool Blood Brothers is Willy Russell's contribution to the nature vs nurture debate. First created as a school play (and still used as a prescribed play for GCSE English Literature) it was then sent to London's West End in 1983 for a short run. Five years later it was revived in London and ran for 10,000 performances until 2012. Since then it has toured extensively and has become a cult classic, as was witnessed at last night's Press Night when hordes of very vocal young audience members showed their delight in the well deserved multiple curtain calls and standing ovation.

Very simply Blood Brothers tells the story of twin boys, Michael and Edward, separated at birth to be brought up at opposite ends of the social scale and how one soars while the other fails.

The boys' mother, Mrs Johnstone (Nikki Colwell Evans) falls pregnant at the drop of a hat and as a single mother finds that having twins to add to her brood would be beyond her means. The woman she cleans for, Mrs Lyons (Sarah Jane Buckley) is desperate for a baby so a deal is struck whereby she takes one of the twins when they are born. So Edward (Joe Sleight) is taken to live in middle class luxury while Mickey (Sean Jones) languishes in the poverty of his birth home.

Superstition says that if twins are separated at birth then they should never be told. If they find out then they will both die. Nonsense of course but both women abide by it.

Coincidentally the boys come into contact with each other and become best friends. To try and avoid the curse Mrs Lyons persuades her husband (Tim Churchill) to move away. Unfortunately the Johnstone's street is due to be demolished and the Council rehomes them on a brand new estate which is near the Lyon's new home.

To add to all their worries the boys both fall in love with the same girl, Linda (Gemma Brodrick) and it causes their blood brotherhood to be fractured and ultimately leads to their deaths.

Blood Brothers is, to my mind, the perfect piece of musical theatre. It has a beautiful story, hummable songs and a moral. The text, lyrics and music by Willy Russell are in turn hilarious and poignant. Nikki Colwell Evans' Mrs Johnstone breaks your heart as she mourns the loss of both her sons in the final number. The set by Andy Walmsley and lighting by Nick Richings are astounding.

There are very few seats available for the rest of the run. Call the box office. You may be lucky.

www.curveonline.co.uk  

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

 

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Unfortunate – The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch

Book & lyrics by Robyn Grant & Daniel Foxx, Music by Tim Gilvin

Directed by Robyn Grant

Produced by Wildpark Entertainment, The Vaults & Dianne Roberts

Review by Paul Towers, 8/4/24

At Curve until 9th April 2024

"hilarious and pulls no punches"

In Disney's Little Mermaid Ariel's aunt, Ursula, has a small and villainous role in the story. Many feel this is a criminal oversight and so the authors of this Untold Story have set out to put matters right by placing Ursula front and centre stage in her own story.

While dipsy Ariel (Drag Race's River Medway) still does all the stupid things that result in her losing her voice when she ventures on land, it is the bodacious Ursula (Shawn Hamic) who tears up the stage as the 'baddest bitch in the Ocean, the undisputed Queen of Villains'.

Ariel's father, Triton (Thomas Lowe) probably one of the campest supposedly straight guys, is in love with Ursula (nobody said this story was straightforward!) and is torn between his heart and his destiny to rule Atlantica.

Supported by a myriad of puppetry sea life the soundtrack is like a rock opera most of the time with original music that often contains echoes of the original Disney songs. Very clever. The set, designed by Abby Clarke (who also created the puppet designs and costumes) is a ship side on. Choreographer Melody Sinclair puts the ensemble through their paces, especially with the quick changes they need to make.

The script is hilarious and pulls no punches, especially when Ursula is raging against the various injustices heaped upon her. Shawn Hamic's vocal talents are awesome and her unashamedly bulky stage presence and potty mouth makes her perfect for the role.

While there are still a few seats available for tonight's final performance at Curve be warned Unfortunate is not the Disney-fied saccharine kids' story of The Little Mermaid. This is a grown-up, X rated, in your face joyous rendition of the wonderful Ursula's back story.

Pics: Pamela Raith

www.unfortunatemusical.com

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Writers: Henry Lewis, Johnathan Sayer & Henry Shields

Directed by Adam Meggido

Kenny Wax Ltd, Stage Presence Ltd

A Mischief Production

At Curve til Sun 7th April 2024

Review by Richard Perry

“gloriously daft”

Some people go to the theatre for a bit of Shakespeare, perhaps a little musical or to be engrossed in an emotional, traumatic drama. If you like that kind of thing, Peter Pan Goes Wrong will disappoint on soooo many levels.

Rarely have I seen such an appalling display of egos and incompetence from even an amateur company, such as those based at Cornley Poly.

How they got funding to tour this excoriating mess is beyond me.

Director Chris Bean, who couldn’t direct traffic in a cul-de-sac, makes a total hash of the whole production mainly by working with bigger under rehearsed amateurs than he is.

The whole production started off with some appalling technical glitches which began even before the curtain rose and is an accurate pointer to the way the rest of the show will go.

Actually, it’s one of the best things I’ve seen in a long, long time, with a brilliantly funny and energetic cast tightly choreographed around Simon Scullion’s wonderfully unsafe looking set.

The whole meta idea of an ego riddled and naff amdram company, along with all the interpersonal shenanigans and technical hiccups, attempting to put on Peter Pan is gloriously daft and worthy of repeat viewing.

Grab your tickets while you can and spend some time reading the programme; it’s as funny as the show.

Loved it!

Richard Perry

Pics by Pamela Raith

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The Secret Garden

By Marsha Norman & Lucy Simon from the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Directed by Keiran Whelan-Newby

Produced by Leicester Drama Society

At The Little Theatre until Saturday 6th April

Review by Paul Towers, 22/3/24

"A musical version of the much-loved book and film"

Based on the 1911 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett The Secret Garden is set in the early 20th century in the days of the Indian Raj.

A cholera outbreak orphans Mary Lennox and she is sent to England and her only living relative, Archibald Craven, someone she has never met.

As Mary Lennox Olivia King leads the company with aplomb. The other child character, Colin is brightly played by Edward Lander alternating with Harry Woodward. Director and Musical Stager Keiran Whelan-Newby takes the role of Archibald Craven the self-pitying widower who seems to revel in the disability his hump gives him. Also resident in the cold, stone manor is Dr Neville Craven (Russell Webster) the manipulative brother who has groomed young Colin into thinking he is on death's door and is wheelchair bound. The final resident is the housekeeper dour Mrs Medlock (Karen Gordon). It has to be said that none of these characters are in the least bit likeable. The children are entitled brats who I just wanted to slap. It isn't until the last few minutes that they are redeemed when the Secret Garden works its magic.

Much needed lightness is provided by Dickon (Simon Butler) who befriends Mary and Ben Weatherstaff (Martin Bell) the old retainer who has been secretly tending the garden.

The back story of both Mary and Archibald are represented by a variety of ghosts and memories. A live band hidden away gives an immediacy to the singing.

The set by Gem Greaves is a very impressive collection of arches and a walkway while lighting by Alex Crooks & Andy Crooks creates a credible French backdrop.

The Secret Garden is on at The Little Theatre until Saturday 6th April with a short break over the Easter weekend.

www.thelittletheatre.co.uk/

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

Pics by Dave Morris

 

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Drop The Dead Donkey: The Reawakening

Written by Andy Hamilton & Guy Jenkin

Directed by Derek Bond

Produced by Hat Trick & Simon Friend Entertainment

At Curve Leicester until 23rd March 2024 & Touring

Reviewed by Richard Perry

“the donkey is definitely not dead”

After a hiatus of 26 years, legendary British TV cable news sit-com, Drop the Dead Donkey returns, firing on all cylinders and it doesn’t miss a beat.

The characters are all older and absolutely no wiser, as the cast step back into the roles they played over 66 episodes and eight years during the nineties.

So here they are grouped together as a team once again, after two and a half decades, as Truth News prepares to launch; but there’s a mystery to solve. Why have they all been brought together after such a long time? Who actually owns Truth News? Can they bring their very rusty journalistic and presentations skills to the table in this new media age and make the first broadcast a success? If you’re a fan of the TV show, you’ll already know the answer to that one.

DTDD has always cast an acidic sideways look at the world around us and the sniping is bang up to date with references to politicians and the algorithms which seem to drive how we consume media in 2024. The fact that the news station is called Truth, not unlike Donald Trump’s social media platform, is the biggest irony of all.

It was lovely to see the cast back in the skins they inhabited for so long. Victoria Wicks channels an uptight Margaret Thatcher as head newsreader Sally Smedley, Jeff Rawle is as hapless as ever as editor George, Stephen Tomkinson’s Damien is still up for faking traumatic events for a decent 30 second clip, Neil Pearson as a down on his luck Dave, now shambolic and grateful for a gig, as is Ingrid Lacy as Helen. Robert Duncan’s Gus, the manager, is as dim, unaware, and pointlessly enthusiastic as ever. And Susannah Doyle as the inappropriately named Joy Merryweather glides around the background, dressed in black leather trousers like a psychotic Emma Peel firing sarcastic verbal stilettos at anybody within range.

It’s very good occasionally thought-provoking entertainment especially about the importance of journalistic integrity in a media landscape of fake news and fake people.

DTDD is more than a ride on the nostalgia train, it’s a really funny watch and tightly written by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin who clearly love the characters they created and prove the donkey is definitely not dead… or even asleep.

http://www.curveonline.co.uk/

www.dropdeaddonkey.co.uk

Pics: Manual Harlan

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Dial M For Murder by Frederick Knott

Directed by Mary Jones

Produced by Leicester Drama Society

At The Little Theatre until Saturday 9th February 2024

Review by Paul Towers, 4/3/24

"a good, old fashioned crime thriller"

 

Back in 1952 when Dial M For Murder was written things were very different. Men went out to work and provided for their family and women stayed home and kept house. But, behind closed doors, all is not as it seems.

 

Tony Wendice is an ex professional tennis player married to wealthy socialite Sheila. They live in a very nice ground floor mansion apartment in West London, but Sheila (Amber Goddard) has been cheating on Tony (Andy Longley-Brown) with Max Halliday (Sam White). Unfortunately, Tony knows about the cheating and is plotting to kill his wife and inherit her fortune. Tony inveigles an old school colleague, Tony Swann, aka Captain Lesgate, (Paul Large) into committing the murder for £1000 on his behalf. It will be, he says, the perfect crime. And so, as we approach the end of the first half, the murder is committed. Only the wrong person ends up dead!

 

Unusually we, the audience, already know who got killed, by whom, and how. It is now up to the indubitable Inspector Hubbard (Adam Jones) to unravel the mystery. Tony Wendice proves to be an arch manipulator and seems to be on the verge of getting away with it while his wife is awaiting the hangman's noose. But her lover, Max, is determined to save her.

 

Dial M For Murder is a good, old fashioned crime thriller beautifully acted in a wonderful 1950's set designed by Gemma Greaves. Mary Jones' direction is faultless, and the actor's clipped accents perfectly place them in post war middle class London, a world of landlines and prompt policemen.

 

Dial M For Murder is at The Little Theatre until Saturday 9th March.

 

www.thelittletheatre.co.uk /

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

Pics: Mary Jayne Harding Scott

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Jesus Christ Superstar

Lyrics by Tim Rice, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Directed by Timothy Sheader

Produced by Crossroads Live and Work Light Productions

At Curve until Saturday 17th February 2024

Review by Paul Towers, 12/2/24

"a loud, brash heavy rock opera"

Way back in 1971 Lloyd Webber and Rice, young upstart musical theatre composers, innovatively released a concept album of their rock opera based on the last week of Jesus before his crucifixion. Told from the perspective of Judas and his disillusionment of the Messiah's teachings, it has taken until now for the full horror of those days to be fully explored on stage. Previously productions tended to be sanitised for general consumption, but this touring version is the Regents Park Open Air Theatre production which played to great acclaim in 2016.

The set is an industrial arrangement of girders and boxes with a live band seated up on both sides. There are two crosses, one up against the back wall and another laid down centre stage. The lighting by Lee Curran is almost a character in its own right.

While the story may be as old as the hills (or the bible) director Tomothy Sheader, designer Tom Scutt and choreographer Drew McOnie have laid the emphasis on the cult-like devotion of the acolytes and followers who seem to be caught up in a mass hysterical adoration of the Jesus figurehead. The extraordinary ensemble of dancers/singers ululate as if mesmerised, swaying and repeating the same phrases over and over.

As Judas Shem Omari James (an awesome voice) narrates much of the story and is, of course, Jesus' eventual downfall. Hannah Richardson's Mary has the most memorable song, I Don't Know How To Love him which is also reprised, tellingly, by Judas at the end. While Pilate (Ryan O'Donnell) is the main villain it is Timo Tatzber's outrageously camp androgenous Herod who brings a touch of pantomime baddie to the stage.

While every single one of the actors have faultless vocal talents it is Ian McIntosh's Jesus who brings the house down with an extraordinary singing voice that leaves the audience breathless.

It has to be said that this production is not for the faint hearted. The second half is especially harrowing as the brutality is ramped up to the actual crucifixion. Ultimately this is a loud, brash heavy rock opera.

Very few tickets left so grab one quickly!

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

Pics: Paul Coltas

 

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The Good Life adapted by Jeremy Sams

Based on the TV series by John Esmonde & Bob Larbey

Directed by Ruth Cheetham

Produced by Leicester Drama Society

At The Little Theatre until Saturday 10th February 2024

Review by Paul Towers, 5/2/24

"the laughs start from the beginning and don't stop"

Way back in 1975 this heart-warming, funny little sitcom first hit the airwaves and was an immediate hit.

Originally written as a vehicle for the incredibly talented Richard Briers it made stars of the other three regular cast members, Felicity Kendal, Paul Eddington and Penelope Keith. To this day reruns of the show remains.

The stage version which emerged in 2021 is an amalgamation of four of the best episodes and sticks to the same format in four acts.

Tom & Barbara Good are fed up with the office rat race and decide to live 'off grid' and be self-sufficient by growing their own veg and keeping livestock in the back garden, much to the horror of their next-door neighbours Jerry and Margo Leadbetter. Tom (Freddie Dobrijevic) is like a teenager who has just discovered puppies, overexcited and flailing around from one obsession to another. His adoring wife Barbara (Liz Kavanagh) is the practical one in the relationship, constantly reigning in her husband to be more practical. Jerry (David Lovell), Tom's ex-boss, is hen pecked by his wife and downtrodden by his lot in life. Then we come to Margo (Alexandra Elliot) Jerry's imperious wife with no sense of humour and often the butt of Tom and Barbara's teasing. This solid quartet of characters are supplemented by more various characters played by Jon Worthy, Clare Snow, Carissma Griffiths and Ian Salmon.

The set, designed by Abbey Glover, is a very clever visualisation of the two homes side by side. Each side is lit according to where the action is. This enables very fast switching of locations, which adds to the comedy.

The laughs start almost from the start and keep coming all evening. Every cast member is spot on with their timing.

Especial highlights of the show have to be Margo's increasingly over the top frocks and, of course, Geraldine the goat!

The Good Life runs at The Little Theatre until Saturday 10th February. Grab a ticket and relive the 70's

Pics: Sally Evans

www.thelittletheatre.co.uk/

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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April in Paris by John Godber

Directed by Leigh White

Produced by Leicester Drama Society

At The Little Theatre until Saturday 27/1/24

Review by Paul Towers, 22/1/24

"Laughs and tears in equal measure"

 

Al and Bet are an unworldly Yorkshire couple, together for 10 years and, if the truth be told, rather jaded in their relationship. Al has been made redundant and spends all his time in his shed creating appallingly bad paintings while Bet is the breadwinner of the house. Al feels his masculinity ebbing away as he can't even afford to go down the pub and drown his sorrows in 8 pints. Bet's guilty pleasure is doing competitions in her magazines, and she is quite successful in a moderate way, until one day she wins big, a break to Paris, the city of romance. Al, stuck in his self-pitying rut, wants none of 'that foreign muck' and won't go on a boat in case it sinks. Despite all his objections he relents and they set off for foreign climes where a new spring is put in their steps.

 

As always with John Godber's work April in Paris is very funny, in fact the first belly laugh comes barely 2 minutes in. As we eavesdrop on Al and Bet's stagnant relationship there are poignant moments interwoven with the bickering and sniping. What is especially clever is the frequent whispers from the audience when they recognise their own relationship's foibles being played out on stage.

 

This is a two-hander and capably played by Steve Feeney (Al) and Kat Seddon (Bet) on a sparse but versatile set designed by Jake Smart where cane chairs and suitcases become bedrooms, ships and restaurants.

 

April in Paris runs til Saturday 27th January

 

Pics: Mary Jayne Harding

www.thelittletheatre.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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Puss In Boots

Directed by John Bale

Produced by Leicester Drama Society

At The Little Theatre until Saturday Sunday 7th January 2024

Review by Paul Towers, 15/12/23

"A most traditional of pantomimes"

 

This year's Little Theatre pantomime is the most traditional of pantomimes, Puss In Boots.

 

Written by director and star John Baale this is the story of Tom (Simon Butler), the late miller's son, returning penniless from his travels to, hopefully, claim his inheritance and marry his childhood sweetheart, Princess Lilly (Alice Marshall). Unfortunately, the evil landlord Malavort (a splendidly camp Joe Middleton) puts a dampener on things by suddenly calling in the miller's huge loans and leaving the family without anything. Tom's younger brother Silly Billy (a wonderfully energetic Abdullah Henly) tries to help but, of course, only makes things worse.

 

As Queen Camilla John Bale's Dame indulges his imagination with an ever more outrageous selection of frocks alongside his sidekick Chamberlain Fusspot (a wonderfully comedic Russell Webster) who break each other up when they wander off script. Of course panto wouldn't be panto without a Good Fairy and Natasha Ann-Carr's Spirit of Cat-landfills in the narrative gaps while the titular Puss in Boots is thigh slappingly played by Rose Bale.

 

All the elements of the best pantomimes are here, lots of audience participation, glittering costumes and awful puns. What's not to like?

 

To fill out the scenes there are a bevy of eight dancers and singers who perform the many shoe-horned in old and new pop songs, as is traditional. The opening night was full to the brim with over-excited youngsters and parents.

 

The sets designed by Jacob Martin are very professional, as are the extraordinary costumes overseen by Mr Bale.

 

Puss In Boots is at The Little Theatre until Sunday 7th January.

 

www.thelittletheatre.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

Pics: Dave Morris

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Jack and the Beanstalk by Eric Potts

Directed by Janice Dunn

Produced by Imagine Theatre

At DeMontfort Hall til Sunday 7th January 2024

Review by Paul Towers, 16/12/23

"a magical world of wonder for children of all ages"

Once again Imagine Theatre has provided us with a spectacular pantomime at Leicester's DeMontfort Hall. Returning again are local favourites Sam Bailey and Jarred Christmas. This year they are joined by Jack Ballard, a very worthy replacement for panto stalwart Martin Ballard (and yes, they are related. Son and father). Making his pantomime debut is Radio 2 DJ Scott Mills as Mayor Mills.

Jack and the Beanstalk is a wonderful family-friendly show full of songs, dancing and comedy. It also has some great special effects.

The story, such as it is, follows Jack Trott (90's pop band A1's Mark Read) as he returns from his travels penniless and hoping that his late father, the miller, has left him money. To the dismay of his mother, Dame Trott (Jack Ballard having huge fun with the role) the house and mill are up to their ears in debt to Giant Blunderthwaite (Thomas Brackley in an astonishing costume/animatronic standing more than 10 feet tall). The Giant's henchman, appropriately named Fleshcreep (a very hissable baddie played with relish by Mark Beauchamp), is tasked with collecting the debt. Jack, intent on marrying his childhood sweetheart Jill Mills, the Mayor's daughter (Christina Harris), vows to clear the debt by selling the family's much-loved cow, Buttercup. Unfortunately, he ends up with worthless beans, but they do turn out to be magic beans and grow up to the Giant's lair. So, with Lazy Larry (Jarred Christmas returning to Leicester to play the fool) the family set out to slay the Giant and put everything right.

Popping up regularly is Fairy Flutterby (local singing sensation Sam Bailey) who pushes the narrative along. This year she seems to have a more prominent role, much to the delight of the audience.

The main cast are very well supported by a talented ensemble of six singers and dancers as well as alternating teams of eight local youngsters choreographed by Aaron Renfree. The hilarious locally referenced script by panto maestro Eric Potts hits all the right notes while director Janice Dunn has created a magical world of wonder for children of all ages.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at De Montfort Hall until Sunday 7th January 2024.

www.demontforthall.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

Pics – Paul Clapp for Limelight Photography

Evita

Lyrics by Tim Rice, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Directed by Nikolai Foster

Produced by Curve

At Curve until Saturday 13th January 2024

Review by Paul Towers, 1/12/23

"an astonishing production"

 

Wow! Wow! Wow! Do yourself a favour and swap your Christmas shopping from Waitrose to Lidl this year and bag a ticket (or three) for this astonishing production of Evita.

 

This seminal musical by Lloyd Webber and Rice from 1978 was originally a rock opera concept album in 1976. Such was its success that a full show was fashioned around the music and an iconic production was born and spent 8 years in London's West End. It opened on Broadway in 1979 and ran til 1983. Since then, it has had productions around the world and regularly tours the UK.

So, I was excited to hear that our very own Nikolai Foster was staging it in his own inimitable style. And boy, what style. Much like the current London production of Sunset Boulevard, Foster's Evita has a pared backstage which allows the songs and the singers to, rightly, shine.

 

Evita follows the rise of Eva Duarte, a social climbing model, radio star and actress (remind you of anyone?) who, having slept her way up the social ladder eventually manoeuvres herself into the sphere of political climber Juan Peron. Peron soon gets elected President of Argentina with her by his side. However, with success comes accountability and suddenly her charitable work is being scrutinised and found to be wanting. As Eva's health starts to falter, she realises that all that glitters is not gold and her aspirations for class and wealth have not brought her happiness. All that she has achieved is her love for and by the people of Argentina.

 

A huge cast is led by Martha Kirby as Eva Peron and Gary Milner as Juan Peron. Che, the Narrator, is mischievously played by Tyrone Huntley who pushes the story along while voicing some of the nay sayers of Argentina. A large ensemble is further bolstered with two alternating teams of young local performers. A live orchestra of nine hidden below the front of stage and led by George Strickland and Tom Slade give the production a really full-blooded feel. However, it is the set (design by Michael Taylor) and lighting (Joshie Harriette) that give this production the wow factor. Choreographer Adam Murray brings an extraordinary energy to the various dance routines. The set of girders and gantries give a very apt industrial feel to everything but for sheer drama the opening scene of Eva's funeral takes some beating.

 

This is Curve's festive offering and runs right through to the middle of January so, do yourself a favour, and get a ticket and lose yourself in this amazing production of one of the first influencers.

 

Evita is at Curve until Saturday 13th January 2024

 

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

Pics: Marc Brenner

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Nativity The Musical

Book & lyrics by Debbie Isitt, music by Debbie Issit & Nick Agerr

Directed by Joshua J Knott

Produced by Knighton Park Operatic Society

Review by Paul Towers, 21/11/23

At The Little Theatre until Saturday 25th November 2023

"laughs galore for all the family"

Well, what a joyous way to kick start the festive season!

Knighton Park Operatic Society have garnered a huge cast of precociously talented youngsters and adults in this most joyous of hits.

Based closely on the hit film Nativity, this musical version by the same author is almost pantomime and includes plenty of local references.

The story is that disillusioned primary school teacher Mr Maddens (Daniel Rowberry) has been pressured by his headmistress, Mrs Bevan (Keziah Caldwell), into mounting the annual Christmas play and has promised his class of primary school kids that a big Hollywood producer is coming to their Coventry school to see their Nativity Musical in order to make a film of it. Of course, this is just a ploy to encourage their participation. Unfortunately, new Teaching Assistant Mr Poppy (Ed Turner) overhears and takes it as true. Thus, is started a real comedy of errors. No matter how Mr Maddens denies it nobody believes him.

Ed Turner's Mr Poppy is an extraordinary performance of someone who has had 5 espressos and a couple of bags of Haribo and, deep inside, still thinks he is 5 years old as he bounces around Tigger-like. This behaviour, of course, bonds him to the kids and they give him, and Maddens, amazing performances.

Right from the start there are laughs galore and they don't stop until the welling up of tears at the final curtain.

As well as a great adult cast of exemplary singers, there are two alternating groups of talented youngsters. Tucked away at the front of the stage is also a 12-piece live orchestra.

Unfortunately, the entire run is sold out, not a seat to be had. You might want to try calling the box office to see if they have had any returns, but I doubt anyone will be giving up their tickets willingly. It was so gratifying to see an audience that ranged from a babe in arms to proud grandparents thoroughly enjoying themselves.

www.thelittletheatre.co.uk/

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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Fallen Angels by Noel Coward

Directed by Jordan Handford

Produced by Leicester Drama Society

At The Little Theatre until Saturday 18th November 2023

Review by Paul Towers, 13/11/23

"An intelligent comedy well performed."

 

In these turbulent times what better way to spend an autumn evening than in the company of Noel Coward's dissecting of polite society.

 

Julie Steroll (Cathy Sullivan) and Jane Banbury (Ranata Maynard) are two bored wives discussing their past adventures. Both have had a relationship with a French gigolo called Maurice Duclos (Steven Feeney) in the past, long before their current marriages.

 

However, both have received postcards from Maurice saying he will be in town and would love to meet up. This induces a frisson of emotional fire in the pair of jaded housewives as they debate whether to meet the lothario or even more.

 

Unfortunately, this fire also ignites a jealousy which is further inflamed by the consumption of vast quantities of alcohol.

Hovering over this drama is the know-it-all, done-it-all new housemaid Saunders (Charlotte Emily Beaver).

 

Verging on a farce the two husbands, Fred Steroll (John Moulding) and Welly Banbury (Freddie Dobrijevic) get the wrong end of the stick when they return from golf.

 

Directed by Jordan Handford this is a slick slice of 1920's comedy of manners that Coward was so good at. In a sumptuous drawing room set designed by Gem Greaves the final appearance of Maurice Duclos takes us off on a surprising tangent as the curtain falls.

 

Fallen Angels is at The Little Theatre until Saturday 18th November. An intelligent comedy well performed.

 

www.thelittletheatre.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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2:22 A ghost story by Danny Robins

Directed by Matthew Dunster & Isabel Marr

Produced by Runaway Entertainment

Review by Paul Towers, 9/11/2023

At Curve til Saturday 11th November 2023

"the laughs and the shocks come thick and fast"

 

Frazzled new Mum Jenny (Louisa Lytton) has been coping alone in the new house she has bought with husband Sam (Nathaniel Curtis) who has just returned from working away. Now he is back home they are throwing their first dinner party with longtime friend Lauren (Charlene Boyd) and her new man Ben (Joe Absolom).

 

Jenny has been hearing strange noises at 02:22 for the last few nights. Is it just foxes, as sceptic Sam insists, or is it more supernatural, as Ben suspects? As both men are know-it-alls the conversations get fraught.

 

Gradually Jenny becomes more convinced that Ben may be on to something. While Lauren just gets drunker and secrets come tumbling out.

 

Both the laughs and the shocks come thick and fast as we watch the digital clocks on set creep closer to 2:22. What does actually happen when the time arrives?

 

A great set of a kitchen/diner being renovated is complimented by the extraordinary lighting and sound effects.

 

2:22 has been a long-standing fixture in London's West End and I am not surprised. It runs at Curve until Saturday 11th November and then continues to tour. Do yourself a favour and grab one of the last tickets for this supernatural shocker.

 

www.222aghoststory.com

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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The Innocents by William Archibald

Directed by Diani Gatenby Davies

Produced by Leicester Drama Society (LDS)

At The Little Theatre until Saturday 28th October 2023

Review by Paul Towers, 23/10/23

"A spooky treat for Halloween"

 

As we creep towards winter and Halloween is just round the corner the atmosphere is just right for a visit to The Little Theatre and the spooky The Innocents. Based on Henry James' 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw this play premiered on Broadway in 1950 and has been a staple of amateur companies ever since.

 

In 1880 Miss Gidden (Amber Goddard) is the latest in a long line of governesses brought into the house to teach orphans 8-year-old Flora (Amy Rainbow) and 12-year-old Miles (Daniel Betties). The only other adult in the house is the housekeeper/cook Mrs Grose (Karen Gordon).

 

Despite her constant asking nobody will tell Miss Gidden exactly what happened to her predecessors. Slowly she unravels and tragedy ensues.

 

The small cast of 4 held the audience spellbound with especial kudos to the two actors playing the children. Such assured performances for ones so young.

 

Special mention must be made for the sound design of Amanda Priestly and the lighting design of Jenny Harding & Martin Scott which certainly added to the atmosphere.

 

The Innocents is at The Little Theatre until Saturday 28th October.

 

www.thelittletheatre.co.uk/

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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Shrek The Musical

Book & lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire

Music by Jeanine Tesori

Review by Paul Towers, 17/10/23

Directed by Samuel Holmes & Nick Winston

At Curve until Saturday 21st October 2023

"Hilariously spectacular half-term family fun"

Shrek The Musical doesn't stray very far from the Dreamworks original animated film.

Shrek (Antony Lawrence), the least scary ogre in, well just outside, Duloc, is thrown out by his parents at age 7, as is common with ogres at the time. He is determined to confront the fey Lord Farquaad (James Gillan), regain the freedom of the swamp for himself and the release from banishment of all the fairytale creatures. Along the way he rescues a Donkey (Brandon Lee Sears) who tags along to show Shrek the way to Duloc.

Meanwhile Lord F is desperate to become King but needs to marry for this to happen. The only suitable princess he knows of is Fiona (Strictly's Joanne Clifton). In return for signing over the deeds to the swamp to Shrek he agrees to rescue Fiona and present her to Lord Farquaad for him to marry.

Eventually Shrek finds the princess and rescues her. He falls in love. Eventually so does she.

This hilarious and spectacular, all singing, all dancing musical will send you stumbling out into the night believing in happy ever after. With a huge cast of every child's favourite fairy tale characters and fart jokes galore, this is the perfect half term treat for children of all ages.

Shrek The Musical is on at Curve until Saturday 21st October.

http://www.shrekuktour.com  

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk  

 

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The Book Thief based on the novel by Markus Zusak, libretto by Jodi Picoult & Timothy Allen McDonald.

Music & lyrics by Elyssa Samel 7 Kate Anderson

Review by Paul Towers, 4/10/23

Directed by Lotte Wakeham

Produced by Octagon Theatre Bolton

At Curve til Saturday 14th October 2023

"A powerful indictment of a terrible period in history"

 

First up I have to say that I have never read the book so I have sat down with no preconceptions.

 

The Book Thief is set in 1940 Germany, a time when Nazism was making its presence felt across Europe and nobody had any idea of the horrors to come.

 

Illiterate Liesel (Erini Louskou at tonight's Press Night giving a very assured performance) has just lost both her parents and brother. Kneeling by her brother's graveside she steals her first book. Her Jewish foster parents Rosa and Hans Huberman (Mina Anwar and Jack Lord) hide a Jewish boy, Max (Daniel Krikler) in their cellar and it is he that instils in Liesel the wonders of reading and writing so she steals books whenever she can to feed her voracious appetite for education. As Max says, words are the most powerful thing in the world and can change things for good and bad. This theme is beautifully carried through with a sequence where a huge puppet of Hitler is made out of papier mâché, paper covered in words.

 

Liesel, like Anne Frank, determines to write down everything she sees and shares it with her friend Rudy (Oliver Gordon giving a precociously energetic performance). That way it will never be forgotten. And as we now know, without those testimonies some would conveniently forget. Watching the lines of Jews being herded onto trains we are reminded of modern-day efforts to wipe out voices with cancel culture.

 

You might think that a story of privation, abuse and worse would not be suitable material for a musical but both the authors and the musical composers have layered the narrative with humour throughout, especially the domestic sparring between Rosa and her husband Hans.

 

The cast includes a large ensemble of talented dancer/singers who inhabit various characters as well as moving props. The set, designed by Good Teeth, is a wonder to behold.

 

The Book Thief runs at Curve until Saturday 14th October. At the moment there are no confirmed dates for it to transfer. It deserves to end up in London.

 

www.curveonline.co.uk

 

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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Stags & Hens (The Remix) by Willy Russell

Review by Paul Towers, 2/10/23

Directed by Simon Dickens

Produced by Leicester Drama Society

At The Little Theatre until Saturday 7th October 2023

"working class Liverpool at its funniest"

 

Set in 1970's working class Liverpool Stags & Hens explores the different sensibilities of men and women on a night out.

 

It is Linda (Holly Matuisiewicz) and Dave's (Simon Butler) night before their wedding. Both inadvertently turn up at the same run down nightclub.

 

As their night progresses and their alcohol consumption increases the different ways the two groups deal with things emerges. In the boy's toilets testosterone levels rise as Eddy (Lewis Cole) tries to butch up the group. While Robbie (Joey Perez-Jones) is just bemoaning the fact that Dave has thrown up an earlier consumed curry all over his best pulling trousers. Kav (Matt Zebrowski) is the group lush and is more interested in his art that the rough and tumble of the night. Finally, there is Billy (Russell Webster), the odd ball pushed around by the rest of the group.

 

Meanwhile, over at the graffiti strewn ladies' toilets the girls are gathering themselves to enter the fray of the dancefloor. Bride to be Linda is locked in a cubicle trying to decide whether she really wants to be married while her friends are jostling for the sole mirror as they put the finishing touches to their war paint.

 

Maureen (Olivia Phillips) is constantly slurping from the secreted half bottle of cheap vodka in her handbag. She is a maudlin drunk and spends most of the night in tears hoping for a 'nice time'. Bernadette (Angelica Robinson) is the group leader and imposes her will on everyone while Frances (Amy Hollis) the perpetual best friend tries to smooth everything over. Finally, Carol (Carla Field) a work colleague and not really part of the close knit circle watches much of the action in wonder.

 

While Linda is wavering in the cubicle trouble in the form of her ex Peter (Nick Wilkins) appears as the lead singer of a group appearing in the club later that night. The lads in the Gents are jealous that Peter managed to escape their poverty-stricken lifestyle while the girls are worried he will drag Linda away from her impending marriage.

 

As usual with a Willy Russell play there are hilarious one liners and insightful thoughts of working-class Liverpool all couched in the earthy language of the area.

 

Stags & Hens is not for the easily offended and runs until Saturday 7th October.

 

https://www.thelittletheatre.co.uk/

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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Review by Paul Towers, 11/9/23

A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie, adapted by Leslie Darbon

Directed by John Bale

Produced by Leicester Drama Society

At The Little Theatre Until 16 September 2023

"a cosy country weekend turns nasty"

 

A Murder is Announced is a staple of amateur theatre groups largely because it has a relatively large cast of 13 and is staged on a single set. Agatha Christie wrote detective thriller books which translated easily to the stage and have remained popular ever since their first publication over 100 years ago.

 

The plot of this drawing room mystery revolves around a complicated chain of inheritances sparked by a murder committed, as predicted by a newspaper announcement, of a stranger on Friday 13th.

 

Director John Bale has brought out the comic possibilities of the script with star turns by Liz Kavanagh as dozy Dora Bunner (Bunny), companion to Letitia Blacklock (Alexandra Elliot), the lady of the house and Diana Gatenby Davies as Mitzi the Eastern European maid forever screaming with paranoid outrage.

A cosy country weekend turns nasty when a strange man is shot during a blackout. The arrival of both Miss Marple (Jane Towers) and Inspector Craddock (Michael King) eventually leads to the unravelling of this typical Christie murder mystery.

 

A marvellous set by Jacob Martin whisks us back to post war Chipping Cleghorn (probably somewhere in the Cotswolds) as a backdrop for the cast to toss around the machinations of the evening.

 

If you like your theatre to be thrilling and funny, then pop down to The Little Theatre this week and see if you can work out whodunnit!

 

www.thelittletheatre.co.uk

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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The Boy Who Sailed The Ocean In An Armchair

Written & composed by Jordan Li-Smith from the novel by Lara Williamson

Directed by Hannah Chissick

Produced by National Youth Music Theatre

Review by Paul Towers, 16/8/23

At Curve til Saturday 19th August 2023

"a world premiere of a new show"

 

My second trip to Curve to see a National Youth Musical Theatre (NYMT) production this month. How lucky am I? I am even luckier to be at the world premiere of a brand-new production, The Boy Who Sailed The Ocean In An Armchair. Adapted by Jordan Li-Smith from the much-loved children's classic by Lara Williamson of the same name, this is an adult's attempt to understand how children handle grief. I know that sounds very morbid, but the story is funny, uplifting and ultimately confirmation that, in the words of one of the songs, everything will be OK.

 

Becket (14 year old Sam Carter) is 11 years old and, along with his little brother Billie (11 year old James Breen), is trying to come to terms with the death of his mother and the fact that their father (an extraordinarily assured 19 year old Oliver Futcher) is tearing them away from their new almost-mother Pearl (18 year old Lily Copland-Jones) in the middle of the night without saying goodbye.

Trying to make sense of everything Becket snuggles up in his favourite armchair and comforts himself and Billie with stories.

 

An ensemble of extremely able young talent fill out the worlds Becket creates. Director Hannah Chissick has allowed each performer the opportunity to shine with their own particular talent. So, we get a fabulous big tap routine side by side with great harmonies and some good physical comedy, especially from Brian The Snail (18 year old Bill Stanley).

 

While the entire 34 strong cast deserve praise for their performances special mention must go to young Sam Carter's Becket who, along with James Breen's Billie, is on stage for virtually the whole time. And with a first half that ran to 95 minutes that is some achievement.

 

The set by Richard Cooper is simply a big arch that lights up and a huge red armchair. A live band of 17 hidden away backstage was sometimes a little over-loud but I am sure as the week progresses, they will get the balance right.

 

The Boy Who Sailed The Ocean In An Armchair is at Curve until tomorrow, Saturday 19th August.

www.nymt.org.uk

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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Review by Paul Towers, 15/8/23

Heathers by Kevin Murphy & Laurence O'Keefe

Directed by Andy Fickman

Produced by Bill Kenwright & Paul Taylor-Mills

At Curve til Saturday 19th August 2023

"a very dark comedy"

Based on the 1989 film of the same name Heathers The Musical follows outsider Veronica Sawyer (Eliza Bowden in her first professional role) as she finds acceptance by the school bullies, The Heathers. Weak willed Heather McNamara (Billie Bowman) and bulimic Heather Duke (Elise Zavou) are in awe of 'mythic bitch' Heather Chandler (Verity Thompson). This trio of witches rule Westerberg High School while facilitating the bullying of Veronica's best friend Martha Dunnstock (Kingsley Morton) by jocks Kurt Kelly (Alex Woodward) and Ram Sweeney (Morgan Jackson). Veronica's talent for forgery gets her noticed by the Heathers and she is inducted into their inner circle and becomes a pawn for their cruelty.

When one of their 'japes' is aimed at Martha mysterious new boy Jason 'JD' Dean (Jacob Fowler) chides Veronica for betraying her friend. And thus Veronica is taken down a dark path alongside psychopath JD.

This touring production is big, bold and brassy with an original rock score and outstanding choreography from Gary Lloyd. The set by David Shields is incredibly versatile with a gantry.

This is a very dark comedy that tackles themes like teenage suicide, bullying and sexual assault. As many women will know to their cost school girls are far worse bullies than school boys and in Heathers the oppressed take their ultimate revenge.

Heathers is on at Curve until Saturday 19th August and then continues touring. While most days have few seats still available there are some £10 seats on some days.

www.heathersthemusical.com/tour  

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

 

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Kiss Me Kate by Sam & Bella Spewack, music & lyrics by Cole Porter

Directed by Alex Sutton

Produced by National Youth Music Theatre

At Curve til Saturday 12 August 2023

Review by Paul Towers, 9/8/23

"packed full of musical theatre stars of tomorrow"

Kiss Me Kate was Cole Porter's first musical to use songs to move the story along rather than just bung them in. He was inspired to copy his heroes Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma's use of the new method.

The Spewacks were asked by producer Arnold Saint-Subber to use his first-hand knowledge of the on and off stage warring of then Broadway superstars husband and wife Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne to mirror the marital sparring of the leading characters in Shakespeare's The Taming of The Shrew for a musical version. Cole Porter, known for his very clever lyrics, was brought in to provide the songs and music. It was a veritable hit and ran for more than 1,000 performances on Broadway before becoming a worldwide success.

Being an NYMT production there is a huge cast of 44 gathered from all over the country with ages ranging from 11 to 23 and a live orchestra of 27 of similar ages and from just as wide a range of homes.

This production uses a simple set by Richard Cooper enhanced by many wheeled boxes that are rolled on and off as required. Lighting by Jamie Platt ensures the actors are seen.

Cleverly the opening number, Another Opening, is merged into the overture giving the cast plenty of time to transform the bare stage into a bustling theatre backstage.

Kiss Me Kate has a good mix of comedy numbers and the expected romantic ballads. There are also some ambitious big dance numbers which the cast handle perfectly showcasing their tap, modern dance, and ballet capabilities.

As the eponymous Kate Sydney Richards belies her 21 years and chews up the scenery using her enormous voice to great effect, especially when she reverts to being actress Lilli Vanessi. That said Charlie Weaver as Lilli's ex-husband Fred Graham/Petruchio gives just as good as he gets and is evenly matched with his stage partner.

Another good comedy partnership is the two gangsters played by Raphael Goold and Georgie Lagden, especially when they are forced to 'blend in' by dragging up as Lilli's stand-ins.

Special mention must be made of Joseph Brown's General Howell, Lilli's new husband-to-be. Brown carries off the most complicated tongue twisting number in the entire show, Let's Not Talk About Love. He was word perfect.

As is usual with National Youth Music Theatre shows they are packed with up-and-coming talent and Kiss Me Kate is no exception. This show is blessed with an abundance of future musical theatre stars and is highly recommended.

Kiss Me Kate runs at Curve until Saturday 12th August. Next week NYMT is also presenting The Boy Who Sailed The Ocean In An Armchair at Curve from 16th August.

NYMT website: https://tinyurl.com/mr25jpc8

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

 

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La Bamba by Paul Morrisey, additional lyrics by Ben Dermer

Directed by Ray Broderick

Produced by Paul Morrisey Ltd

Review by Paul Towers, 3/8/23

At Curve til Saturday 5th August 2023

"filled with Latin American love"

Once again Curve has been chosen to kick off a national tour of a brand-new show.

La Bamba is the latest jukebox musical to brighten up this dismal summer. Featuring a selection of Latin American hits this tells the story of 17 year old Sofia (Ines Fernandez in her professional debut) whose love of music comes from her late father, Ricardo (Pasha Kovalev ex Strictly professional dancer) who is constantly looking over her shoulder to encourage her. Supported by her protective mother, Elena (Stefani Ariza in fine voice) and her best friend Mateao (The Wanted's Siva Kaneswaren) Sofia heads off to the big bad world as a singer/songwriter.

A live band of five hidden away under the stage and a very talented ensemble of dancers/singers ensured the night was filled with Latin American love.

It was a shame that several of the key narrative points were sung in Spanish. It made it hard to follow the story.

A very vocal disruptive element at the back of the stalls spoilt the beginning of the show for everyone despite a pre-show announcement asking for people to respect the artistes and audience members.

That said they cast got a well deserved standing ovation at the curtain call.

La Bamba continues to tour for the rest of the year and dates can be found at the usual ticket outlets.

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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Wish You Were Dead by Peter James, adapted by Shaun McKenna
Directed by Jonathan O'Boyle
Produced by Joshua Andrews & Peter James
At Curve til Saturday 22 July 2023
Review by Paul Towers, 18/7/23
"the laughs come thick and fast"
 
If you are a fan of either the books or TV series of Peter James' DI Roy Grace (played on TV by John Sim) then you are going to love this comedy thriller.
 
Roy Grace (George Rainsford), his wife Cleo (Katie McGlynn) and their new baby arrive at a remote French 'chambre d'hote', not a hotel but a home with paying guests.
 
Accompanying them are their friends Kaitlynn (Gemma Stroyan) and Jack (Alex Stedman). Jack has got lost but is due to join them eventually. Eerily there seems to be no-one around but eventually the chatelaine, Madame L'Eveque emerges, treating them with the undisguised disdain only the French have for the English.
 
Although this is billed as a comedy thriller there is scant comedy in the first half as the thrills ramp up the tension. You have to wait for the second half and the arrival of Clive Mantel's Curtis for the laughs to come thick and fast.
 
Wish You Were Dead is at Curve until 22nd July and then continues to tour.
 
 
 
 

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Ride, a new musical by Freya Catrin Smith & Jack Williams

Directed by Sarah Meadows

Produced by DEM productions & Curve

At Curve until Saturday 15th July

Review by Paul Towers, 10/7/23

"tales of daring do on a bike"

 

It's 1894, the bicycle is the latest thing and all of America is fascinated by it. Somehow Annie Londonderry finds herself accepting a bet that a woman can't cycle round the world in just 15 months. Annie is not one to admit defeat just because she has only been on a bike twice. To the world, her world, she is a championship cyclist along with all the other amazing talents she has.

 

Her story opens with her selling her story to numerous American newspaper owners in order to help finance her trip. With daring do tales of hunting tigers with German royalty to being a Harvard Professor and robbed by armed bandits, Annie bamboozles the world and feeds back to various editors her tales as she circumnavigates the globe.

 

Unfortunately, the tales are just that, imaginary stories to keep the newspapers and readers entertained. As Mark Twain once said, "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story" and Annie knew how to spin a tale.

 

Ride has had a less than straightforward passage to this the first full touring production. In November 2019 a one woman 20-minute version was performed as part of The Ceiling Project. In March 2020 it was performed at The Vault Festival. In June 2021 the show was opened up and had a workshop production in London's Garrick Theatre. From there it finally had a full stage production in Charing Cross Theatre with Liv Andrusier as Annie, a role she has made her own.

 

Liv's Annie is hyperactive and full of wild ideas while Martha (Katy Ellis), her secretary, is the comedy foil. This two-hander makes full use of an amazing adaptable set designed by Amy Jane Cook and hides the talented four-piece band under the direction of Sam Young.

 

Ride is not just a story about cycling round the world it is an illustration of how someone brought up in the greatest privation can make something of themselves. Annie Londonderry was the creation of Latvian Jew Annie Kopchovsky who endured a childhood of virulent antisemitism and racism in the Boston tenements while growing up. It is no wonder she created a fictional world for herself.

 

Ride continues at Curve until Saturday 15th July and then at Southwark Playhouse.

 

www.demproductions.co.uk/ride

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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Hairspray by Mark O'Donnell & Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman,  lyrics by Scott Wittman & Marc Shaiman

Directed & choreographed by Lee Proud

Produced by Celia Mackay

At Kilworth House Theatre until 6th August 2023

Review by Paul Towers, 04/07/23

"a luscious production in a fairytale venue"

For some reason I have never been to Kilworth House Theatre. Oh boy, what have I missed?

Kilworth House is a big country house situated just outside Lutterworth. Set in beautiful grounds it is the musical theatre equivalent of Glyndebourne. Once you have parked in the ample grounds you are directed towards the woodland and your fairytale journey begins. Just past the ticket office, sympathetically styled as a woodland hide, you are guided along a walkway festooned with coloured lights. This opens out to a clearing where there is a bar, suitably warmed for chilly evenings. Round the corner, across more wooden walkways, you suddenly come upon the theatre space. Nestled in the trees the stage and auditorium are a marvel of engineering with a huge canvas-like roof covering the raked seating.

Taking our seats, we have a perfect unobstructed view of the amazing set designed by Paul Farnsworth, a bright, highly coloured collection of signs and very sixties shapes. And so, the fun begins.

An eight-piece orchestra, hidden in an adjoining marquee, gives the whole production a spontaneous and full sound.

Paul Farnsworth also designed all the costumes and putting the male dancers in coordinated pastel suits is very effective while he is able to give full reign to his imagination with full 50's style skirts and tops for the girls. Altogether a hugely colourful feast for the eyes.

Of course, all these visual treats would not be enough without a great cast and director Lee Proud has assembled some of the best 'unknown' musical performers around.

Tracy Turnblad (Charlotte-Hannah Jones) is in just about every scene and has the voice of an angel. As her mother, Edna, renowned panto dame Michael J Batchelor hits just the right note playing it straight rather than as a man in a frock. Edna's husband and Tracy's doting father Wilbur (Steven Serlin), physically over-shadowed by the two women he adores, has great fun as the lynchpin of the family. Tracy's dream heartthrob, Link Larkin (Alex Lodge) is torn between furthering his career with Amber Von Tussle (a wonderfully petulant Holly Willock) and her monstrous mother Velma (Jenny Gayner) or following his heart with Tracy. Tracy's 'partner in crime' is Penny Pingleton (Biancha Szynal) who is desperate to escape the clutches of her God-fearing mother. Much to her mother's horror Penny falls for the son of Motormouth Maybelle (Ayesha Maynard), Seaweed J Stubbs (Ashford Campbell), both stalwarts of the black music scene of Baltimore.

A lot of the action is set around the studios of The Corny Collins Show (Liam Doyle) and Tracy's insistence that the show should be integrated rather than segregated.

Every one of the cast sings, dances and acts beautifully but especial mention must be made for Ayesha Maynard's Motormouth's rendition of Big, Blonde and Beautiful. A showstopper if ever there was one. Also of note has to be Edna and Wilbur's love song, You're Timeless To Me. They had the audience in stitches with their 'ad libs'. Absolutely joyous.

I know I am supposed to just review the action on the stage but the entire experience from the venue layout to the way they handled the unseasonal rain made this one of the most unexpectedly wonderful theatre experiences. Don't be like me and miss out on this fairytale venue for so long. Book a ticket. Hairspray runs until Sunday 6th August.

www.kilworthhouse.co.uk/kilworth-house-theatre

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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Gypsy, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, music by Jule Styne

Directed by Keiran Whelan-Newby

Produced by Keiran Whelan-Newby

At The Little Theatre until Saturday 24th June 2023

Review by Paul Towers, 20/6/23

"full to the brim with hummable songs"

 

Gypsy is the ultimate pushy showbiz mother musical.

Rose, the stage mother from hell (Debbie Longley-Brown), has been trudging round the variety circuit in the 1920's just as it is crumbling. Popular entertainment is being replaced by the burlesque, a euphemism for strippers. Rose's Kiddie Act, a vehicle for Baby June (Ava-Lily Creed and then Katie Proctor), her perennially 10 years old daughter. Older sister Louise (Ella Brown and then Rose Bale) is the original Spare relegated to the background along with various boys/young men, all merely wallpaper to the star, June.

 

Then, in Rose's eyes, disaster strikes when June discovers boys and runs way with Tulsa (Peral Ball/Pixie Ball and then Tim Stokes) to form a new act. And then, like a burst dam, L.A. (Aaron Kirby/Ciara Daisley and then Simon Butler), Yonkers (Eva Barratt/Amelie Wilson-Knight and then Joe Dickinson) and the rest of the boys leave. With contracts to fulfil Rose and manager Herbie (Tony Whitmore) convince Louise to take over and front the act.

 

As the Variety circuit fades Rose and her girls find themselves booked into a Burlesque theatre and, desperate to get paid, she devises a 'classy' strip routine for Louise where she teases but never reveals a thing and Gypsy Rose Lee is born.

 

In Gypsy there are several stand out moments for actors to shine and even stop the show. One of my favourites is the cod strip routine that Electra, Mazeppa and Tessie Tura (Victoria Price, Karen Gordon and Liz Kavanagh Knott) perform to You Gotta Get A Gimmick. Of course, as the entire story is really about Rose's aspirations, she has the two defining numbers in the show. Every Thing's Coming Up Roses closes the first half and Debbie Longley-Brown gives it everything. But it is Rose's Turn at the end of the second half that tears the heart out of the audience as Rose begs for a turn in the spotlight. Longley-Brown does both numbers to perfection.

 

As well as the main cast there are an ensemble of competent actors fleshing out the stage. David Lovell as Pop, Rose's grouchy father, is a joy.

 

Gypsy is full to the brim with hummable songs (just don't singalong!) and laugh-out-loud moments and is at The Little Theatre until Saturday 24th June

 

www.thelittletheatre.co.uk/

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

Pics by Dave Morris Photography

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Bouncers by John Godber

Directed by Jane Towers

Produced by Leicester Drama Society (LDS)

At The Little Theatre until Saturday 17th June

Review by Paul Towers, 12/6/23

"relive your misspent youth"

 

Bouncers was John Godber's very first play and has endured since 1977 with a 90's update. Hence the new title of Bouncers remix.

The action takes place inside and outside stereotypically Northern 'townie' nightclub Mr Cinders. Every weekend a collection of teenagers and not-so teenagers descend on the emporium of dance and drink to forget their humdrum lives and, just maybe find if not love at least a warm bed for the night. Sometimes they don't get as far as bed and their pleasures are found behind the bins at the back of the club.

 

Overseeing all this mayhem are The Bouncers, four testosterone fuelled guardians of the doors. All life passes, or attempt to pass, through those doors and it is the Bouncers who are tasked with weeding out the undesirables.

 

Our impartial tuxedoed four are Lucky Eric (Steve Feeney), Judd (Allan Smith, Ralph (Steve Finlay) and Lee (Steve Elliott). Presenting themselves at first as the epitome of upfront manhood these four actors quickly transform at the blink of an eye into a myriad of characters from drunken hen parties to booze filled lads out for a fumble. Their lightning fast switching from one to the other with just a gesture or, as in the case of the hen party, a secreted clutch bag magically displayed, is a wonder to behold. These guys should have been professional!

 

The set designed by Lucinda Smith is a very simple one, a set of club doors and a gaudy neon sign. What more do you need?

Bouncers is especially resonant for those of us who went out clubbing in the 90's and anyone wanting to relive their misspent youth should grab a ticket to Mr Cinders at The Little Theatre before it closes on Saturday.

 

www.thelittletheatre.co.uk/

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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Michael Rosen's Unexpected Twist by Roy Williams

Directed by James Dacre

Produced by The Children's Theatre Partnership and Royal & Derngate Theatre

At Curve Saturday 10 June 2023

Review by Paul Towers, 8/6/23

"a talented cast of young actors"

 

Unexpected Twist is a bold attempt to point some of today's youths towards the classic literature of Charles Dickens by combining Beatboxing, Hip Hop and Oliver Twist and running it parallel with modern sensibilities. Hopefully this will go some way to making the story relevant to a modern audience. Dicken's aim in life was to highlight the inequalities between the rich and poor of Victorian England; modern inner-city areas of deprivation suffer some of the same problems.

 

This production features a talented cast of young actors who are already 'triple threats'.

 

The set, designed by Frankie Bradshaw, is an imaginative multi-level edifice of filing cabinets and gym bars reaching to the ceiling.

 

The songs in the show are by various artistes and are used under the musical direction of Conrad Murray. I should point out that every sound heard in the show is created live by various members of the cast.

 

Unexpected Twist runs at Curve until Saturday 10th June 2023. Check the website for future tour dates.

 

www.unexpectedtwistonstage.co.uk

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

 

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42nd Street by Michael Stewart & Mark Bramble, music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin

Directed by Jonathan Church

Produced by Jonathan Church, David Ian, Curve and Sadler's Wells

Review by Paul Towers, 23/5/23

At Curve until Saturday 3rd June 2023

"Come and meet those dancing feet"

After the lacklustre winter we have had it is a joy to be sitting watching the gaudy glitter that is 42nd Street at Curve. As the song says, "Come and meet those dancing feet" and boy can those feet dance. This show is wall to wall tap dancing right through to the end.

This is the ultimate backstage story of the girl, straight off the train, landing a chorus line job and then having the good luck to take over the leading lady's part when she breaks her ankle. As director Julian Marsh (Adam Garcia) says to ingenue Peggy Sawyer (Nicole-Lily Baisden) "Sawyer, you're going out a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!" and she does.

Originally a 1933 film the stage version debuted in 1980 and opened in London in 1984. The stage production used all the songs from the film with additional ones from the soundtracks of other films the songwriters worked on.

Utilising Curve's huge main stage and extensive video facilities the curtain goes up on chorines milling about rather than the iconic row of tapping feet. However, choreographer Andy Lee (Alyn Hawke) soon marshals the line into their audition routines and the show, Pretty Lady, starts to fall into shape. Arriving just after the auditions have ended Peggy Sawyer thinks she has missed her chance. Fortunately, tenor Billy Lawler (Sam Lips) takes a shine to her and persuades Julian Marsh (Adam Garcia) to see her. The show's writers and co-producers Maggie Jones and Bert Barry (Josefina Gabrielle and Les Dennis) are frantically doing last minute additions to the show when Dorothy Brock (Ruthie Henshall), a faded leading lady and diva extraordinaire sweeps in with her sugar daddy Abner Dillon (Anthony Ofoegbu) who is financing the show. To further complicate matters Brock also has in tow her penniless boyfriend Pat Denning (Michael Praed). As they say, chaos ensues.

While there is a lot of sniping and some stinging one liners flying around we are all waiting for the actual show in a show to take off and those dancing feet to star flying. We are not disappointed. The choreography by Bill Deamer is spectacular as are the costumes by Robert Jones, who also designed the set, a beautiful art deco-esque confection of sweeping lines.

Both Ruthie Henshall and Nicole-Lily Baisden have fine comedic timing and make the most of their lines while the ensemble of extraordinary dancers/singers fill the stage with the requisite glamour of a Broadway show.

This show is musical heaven to me.  42nd Street runs at Curve until 3rd June and then goes back into London before touring. Full details on the website.

www.42ndstreettour.com

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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Road by Jim Cartwright

Directed by Cara Nolan

Produced by DMU and Curve

At Curve til Saturday 20th May 2023

Review by Paul Towers, 18/5/23

"unremittingly downbeat and depressing"

Jim Cartwright's first play, Road, is set in an unspecified northern town in the 80's, a time and place of austerity and widespread unemployment. Cartwright went on to pen the highly acclaimed Little Voice.

The set (designed by Abby Clarke) is an ingenious representation of a street; house fronts on two levels slide back and forth, up and down to reveal various households.

The first half is unremittingly downbeat and depressing as various characters duck and dive trying to get by on the very basics of life, fags and cheap lager. Fortunately, the second half was a bit lighter, especially an hilarious scene where a middle aged woman is trying to seduce a drunken soldier (Jake Winter) she has picked up. However, the tone dived back into gloom with a monologue by Joey (Amirah Abimbola Alabere), well-acted but depressing.

Throughout the production narrator Scullery (Ella Gibson), looking like a Kevin & Perry tribute, drifted on and off stage to push the narrative along. This brings me to, for me, a problem with this particular production. Gender blind casting seems to be the current thing. I am not sure whether this is through necessity or choice, but it makes things difficult at times for the audience (me) to work out whether the character is supposed to be male or female.

I found the writing erratic, one moment quick-fire character moments and the next big monologues. However, one thing I did take away from the production was that people living in poverty seem to choose to handle it in one of two ways. Either they embrace their victimhood and wallow or, like some of the characters in Road, they make the best of what little they have.

Road is not an easy watch, despite the attempts at levity, especially of those of us who lived through the 1980's. However, it does give a large cast of 18 a chance to show off their acting chops.

Road runs at Curve until Saturday 20th May

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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Home, I'm Darling by Laura Wade

Directed by John Ghent

Produced by Leicester Drama Society

At The Little Theatre 8-13 May 2023

Review by Paul Towers, 8/5/2023

"Who wouldn't want to be a perfect 1950's housewife?"

Wouldn't it be nice to live an uncomplicated life? No computers, no wall-to-wall TV stations, no mobile phones? It would be bliss, wouldn't it? Or would it?

Judy and Johnny have decided to do just that. Well, almost. Johnny goes out to work while Judy stays home and is the perfect 1950's housewife. Of course, 21st century living has to impede to some extent. Online shopping for vintage clothes and props for their 1950's house is essential. But apart from that it is all authentic 1950's at home. Judy has Johnny's supper and slippers waiting for him when he gets home. Judy spends her days cleaning the house in a selection of impractical frocks and waits for her husband to return from the office. Life is perfect.

Except, of course, it isn't. Back when they both worked Judy was the highest earner and, with Johnny under performing at work, the money is running out. A crisis looms. As it turns out it is Judy who has bought into the whole domestic submissiveness idea rather more than Johnny.

For those that were actually around in the 1950's life was not a bright, pastel coloured round of cocktails and domestic harmony. It was post war privation, dirt and grime from the factories and filthy steam trains belching soot everywhere. It was grim. Judy's stylised fantasy never existed.

Before the show started there was a wonderfully condescending announcement requesting all phones to be turned off. It put us all in the right mood to laugh.

A small tight knit cast of six took us on the reality trip that Judy (Caitlin Mottram) and Johnny (Gary Hunt) needed to travel. Neighbours Fran (Tracey Holderness) and Marcus (Laurence Jackson) swooped in and stirred things up while Judy's mum Sylvia (Elaine Rook) tried to make her daughter face reality. The final fly in the ointment was Johnny's new boss Alex (Becky Orton) providing frustrated Johnny with a fantasy strong woman.

The clever set by Al Davis manages to represent an entire house on the stage while lighting design by Andy Crooks, Alex Crooks and Martin Scott ensures our attention is always in the right direction.

The script is full of snappy one-liners and moves at a pace with the experienced actors.

Home, I'm Darling is at Leicester's Little Theatre until Saturday 13th May 2023

www.thelittletheatre.co.uk/

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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The Bodyguard The Musical

By Lawrence Kasdan, book by Alexander Dinelaris

Directed by Thea Sharrock

Produced by Michael Harrison & David Ian

At Curve til Saturday 22nd April 2023

Review by Paul Towers, 17/4/23

"wall to wall Whitney Houston classic songs"

I am sure that most people already know the plot of the 1992 movie starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston. Originally created as a vehicle for Steve McQueen and Diana Ross twenty years previously it ended up being a showcase for Houston's amazing voice.The stage musical finally got made in 2012 when producer David Ian bought the rights.

For those who have missed out on one of the most popular rom-coms in recent times the plot is fairly standard. Rachel Marron is a mega star singer and a bit of a diva. Her sister, Nikki, is the original 'spare' forever consigned to the background of her sister's success. Frank Farmer, the Bodyguard of the title, is brought in to protect Rachel after she receives threats from a mysterious Stalker. The secondary drama of the story is that Rachel and Frank hate each other on sight but eventually fall in love.

If that were all there was to the show it would be pretty unexceptional. The clever bit, as with the film, was to use it as the story to a jukebox musical of Whitney Houston songs.

The role of Rachel Marron is split between two singer/actresses. Last night it was the turn of Samantha Mbolekwa, the owner of an extraordinary voice. The powerhouse vocals require amazing technique, and it is no wonder that the role requires two singers. It would ruin the voice of anyone attempting it every night week in week out.

While she doesn't have anywhere near as many numbers to sing Emily-Mae as Nikki Marron has just as good a voice.

As The Bodyguard, Ayden Callaghan, doesn't have the power ballads that the girls do but he does a nice line in gruff, no-nonsense, in control macho-ness in a James Bond style.

The stars are very ably supported by a talented ensemble choreographed by Karen Bruce. A clever set, designed by Tin Hatley, makes good use of Curve's technological magic.

With wall-to-wall Whitney Houston classic songs this is a great night out. In view of recent problems in other venues the pre-show announcement warns people not to join in until the finale. To Leicester Curve's audience's credit, they behaved impeccably, as I knew they would and waited until the closing number before getting to their feet and giving the cast a well deserved standing ovation with the sing-a-long to a medley.

There are still a few tickets left for the rest of the run but don't leave it too long before you book.

www.thebodyguardmusical.com

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

 

 

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Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling

Directed by Anthony Banks

Produced by Trafalgar Theatre Productions

Review by Paul Towers, 4/4/23

At Curve til Saturday 8th April 2023

"the smart one-liners come thick and fast"

When Robert Harling's beloved sister Susan died of diabetic complications in 1985, he started to write about the amazingly funny, strong women that surrounded him in Louisiana. Those stories became Steel Magnolias, first a play and then a film.

Annelle Dupuy (Elizabeth Ayodele) turns up at Truvy Jones' (Lucy Speed) hair salon and quickly makes herself indispensable. The steady stream of clients include M'Lynn Eatenton (Laura Main), mother to Shelby (Diana Vickers). Clairee Belcher (Caroline Harker) is the always happy ex-Mayor's widow. When Shelby has a hypoglycaemic episode, it is this close knit band of friends who help her recover. Add into this mix the grumpy Ousier Boudreaux (Claire Carpenter in this run) and you have the six strong cast of this funny, warm, life affirming play.

While the deep south American accents take a little getting used to the smart one-liners come thick and fast, especially in the second half.

An ingenious set that changes swiftly to mark the passing of the seasons was designed by Laura Hopkins whilst the garish 1980's costumes are down to Susan Kulkarni.

Stel Magnolias continues touring

https://steelmagnoliasplay.co.uk/

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

 

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The Railway Children – A Musical by Julian Woodford

Music & lyrics by Richard John and Julian Woodford

Directed by Leigh White

Produced by Leicester Drama Society (LDS)

At The Little Theatre until Saturday 15th April

Review by Paul Towers, 31/3/23

"a perfect Easter treat"

 

Way back in 1970 a classic movie was born. Under the auspices of the legend that was Lionel Jeffries, who bought the rights at the time, The Railway Children quickly became a family favourite.

 

In 2005 a stage musical was premiered and has become a firm favourite with children, young and old, ever since.

 

Written by E (Edith) Nesbit in 1905 and published the following year The Railway Children follows the story of three children and their mother, reduced to penury when their father is wrongly convicted of spying. In dire straits they move out of London to the country to await what they all fervently believe will be the clearing of their father's name. Their subsequent adventures include saving the life of an injured boy when he breaks his ankle and can't get off the railway line and preventing a train derailing when a tree blows down.

 

Mother (Amanda Sadler) arrives on the platform of the deserted station in the country with her three children in tow. Roberta, the eldest (Scarlett Hubbard); Peter, the stroppy teenager (Harvey Griffiths) and Phyllis (Ava Colford /Hollie Longley Wilford) the baby of the family lost and bewildered. Fortunately, Mr Perks (Tom Young), the station Master, is able to point them in the right direction. Perks' children, typical country kids, resent the 'townies' arriving but very soon the two families rub along quite nicely.

 

The main cast are ably supported by an ensemble which peoples the village with characters.

 

Huge kudos should go to Gem Greaves who designed the original set for LDS. Somehow, they even managed to get the front end of a steam train onstage.

Because so many of the cast are youngsters all the children's roles have to be doubled up (the perfect excuse to go and see the show a second time!)

 

Once again LDS has assembled a cast of the most talented amateur performers from Leicester and the surrounding area. The singing is superb and the acting, especially from the young cast members, is astonishing.

The Railway Children is a perfect for the Easter Holidays and as such runs til 15th April.

 

www.thelittletheatre.co.uk/whats-on

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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An Inspector Calls by JB Priestly

Review by Paul Towers, 21/3/23

Directed by Stephen Baldry

Produced by The National Theatre

At Curve until 25 March 2023

"a spectacular production"

You know you are in for something special when, as the curtain rises, there is real rain pouring down and a huge, cantilevered house dominating the stage.

I vaguely remember seeing An Inspector Calls as a secondary school production, but I have to admit I didn't pay much attention at the time. It was just an extra couple of hours out of lessons one afternoon.

This National Theatre touring production is, as expected, of the highest standard. A first rate cast of jobbing actors give solid performances. No star casting required here. Designer Ian MacNeil's set is astonishing, a huge two storey house which unfolds to reveal the interior, and which ultimately not only falls apart but then restores itself. Extraordinary.

Set in 1912, just before the First World War, it exposes the class hypocrisies of Victorian and Edwardian England as an upper middle-class family living in the Midlands tears itself apart.

An Inspector (Liam Brennan) arrives unexpectedly and starts questioning the family about the suicide of a young, pregnant working girl. Arthur Birling (Jeffrey Harmer), the patriarch of the family is outraged that his family is being drawn into someone else's tragedy. His wife Sybil (Christine Kavanagh) is all Edwardian grandeur and haughty disassociation from the problem. The interrupted family gathering is to celebrate the engagement of daughter Sheila (Chloe Orrock) to eminently eligible Gerald Croft (Simon Cotton). The Birling son, Eric (George Rowlands) is like an over-excited puppy, far too loud and lacking social graces.

As the Inspector questions the household secrets emerge and the family unit starts to crumble and ultimately fall apart. At that very moment the house itself symbolically disintegrates spectacularly.

The denouement, for those of us that had never studied the text or seen the play or film before, was unexpected and eerie.

This is a spectacular production of an 80-year-old text which still has a resonance for modern audiences.

While the entire run at Curve is sold out the tour continues.

www.aninspectorcalls.com

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

 

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Mother Goose by Jonathan Harvey

Directed by Cal McCrystal

Produced by Ambassador Theatre Group and others

At Curve til Sunday 19th March 2023

Review by Paul Towers, 15/3/23

"a hoot of a show"

Pantomime always used to run til April and Mother Goose, by touring, is hoping to revive the tradition. And if this production is anything to go by it will become an annal event once again.

Just looking at the cast and creatives behind this production, dare I say it, you just can't go wrong. A script by the comedy genius that is Jonathan Harvey (Coronation Street, Beautiful Thing etc etc), a cast that is headed by Sir Ian McKellen and John Bishop and a live band makes this an hilariously full blooded show.

Harvey has crafted a suitably funny show packed with gags and topical material. Slotted into the action, like all traditional pantomimes, are songs that range from Lady Gaga to 42nd Street.

The story, such as it is, follows Mother Goose (Ian McKellen), her husband Vic (John Bishop) and their son Jack (Oscar Conlon-Morrey) as they try and avoid shutting down their animal sanctuary (cue an excuse for the ensemble to be dressed as animals). The latest rescued bird is Cilla Goose (Anna-Jane Casey) who turns out to be menopausal but manages to pop out the last of her gold eggs to save the sanctuary.

To provide the audience with reason to hiss and boo there are two fairies Encanta (Sharon Ballard) and Malignia (Karen Mavundukure), one good one evil.

Costumes for both Mother Goose and all the animals, as well as the sets, were designed by Liz Ascroft. Christopher Barlow had great fun designing and making some incredibly lifelike animal puppets to supplement the ensemble.

Unfortunately, there are very few tickets left for the rest of the week at Curve. But if you can get one, grab it. This is a hoot of a show with plenty for both children and adults.

https://mothergooseshow.co.uk/

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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Annie, by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin

Directed by Nikolai Foster, choreographed by Nick Winston

Produced by Michael Harrison and David Ian

On tour

Review by Paul Towers, 28/2/2023

"Annie is a huge, warm musical"

Way back in 1924 a comic strip called Little Orphan Annie ran in American newspapers. This detailed the adventures of Annie, an orphan in a children's home in New York. In 1972 Thomas Meehan was approached and asked to write the book of a musical about Annie. So, taking the main characters of Annie, Daddy Warbucks and Sandy the dog, he created a whole new story. Set in 1933 New York in the heart of the Great depression, Annie escapes from the orphanage to try and find her parents. Caught by the cruel Miss Hannigan Annie is put to work with the rest of the inmates to scrub and clean.

This current tour which kicks off at Curve stars Craig Revel Horwood as the harridan Miss Hannigan with three rotating teams of young girls as the orphans. There are also three Annies taking it in turns. Press Night saw the extraordinary Zoe Akinyosade lead the company in the title role. This young talent has star potential written in spades. She holds the stage with ease and has a clear strong voice which belies her years. The role of Annie is supposed to be 11 years old but I suspect Zoe is even younger. She will go far.

The orphans on Press Night, Team Chrysler, were spot on, very tightly choreographed. The adult ensemble, tasked with very many roles changed costumes at an alarming rate to populate the story.

Now we come to the main adult roles. Craig Revel-Horwood as Miss Hannigan has a whale of a time drunkenly swishing across the stage in-between snarling insults at all and sundry. He also shows he can kick up his heels with the best of them. As the central, calming, authoritarian figure of the story, Alex Bourne's Daddy Warbucks has the gravitas and deep warm voice that the role needs.

Not a single member of the cast puts a foot wrong, and that includes Sandy the dog. There are four Sandys so I am not sure which one was on last night. Whichever it was they were perfectly behaved.

Annie is a huge, warm musical with loads of laughs, wall to wall musical numbers and a great story. Now on tour.

https://anniethemusicaltour.uk/

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

 

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The Ocean At The End Of The Lane

Adapted by Joel Norwood based on the novel by Neil Gaiman

Directed by Katy Rudd

Produced by National Theatre

At Curve until Saturday 11 February 2023

Review by Paul Towers, 31/1/23

"visually spectacular adaptation"

 

How to explain this visually spectacular adaptation of Neil Gaiman's classic tale? From the weird imagination that spawned books such as Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett) The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is a delicious mixture of fairy tale and the fevered dreams of a pubescent boy struggling to make sense of his world.

 

Boy (we are never given his name) is angry with the world for taking his mother away; his father is too busy providing for boy and his sister to give then the time they need, he even introduces a 'nanny' into the household to help with the children, the evil Ursula.  In this emotional vacuum Boy wanders into the enchanted clutches of the neighbours and their young daughter, Lettie. From there we get a mash up of Cinderella, Hansel & Gretel and every other fairy tale created to scare children. Only this is given the Neil Gaiman supernatural horror twist and we are plunged into a world of monsters, magic and the supernatural.

 

Daniel Cornish (Standing in for Keir Ogilvy in this performance) as Boy is never off the stage and causes mayhem by doing what every 12 year old does. Never what he is told! Millie Hikasa as Lettie is by his side throughout and together, they fight the demons. Trevor Fox as both Dad and modern-day Boy provides a mature influence, when he can. Finty Williams as Old Mrs Hempstock is the wise old witch. The villain of the piece is Charlie Brooks who is having a great time both roaring her dominance and being centre to all sorts of theatrical illusions. Kudos must be paid to the ensemble who deserve praise not only for their balletically choreographed scene changing but also for their nightmarish monsters.

 

Hugely atmospheric music is provided by Jherek Bischoff and a full orchestra, while special audio effects (and there are plenty) are created by Ian Dickinson. Lighting, also very integral to the story, is designed by Paula Constable. Special mention must be made of the puppetry created by Samuel Wyer. The magic and illusions (and there are loads) were provided by Jamie Harrison. The set, a woodland, was designed by Fly Davis and had a life of its own.

The entire production is so theatrically perfect that I could cover pages listing the myriad of genius artistes responsible.

While the production runs at Curve until 11 February there are some special performances in the run. On Wednesday 1st Feb there is a captioned performance; on Saturday 4th February there is a BSL Interpreted performance and on Wednesday 8th Feb there is an Audio Described performance.

This show is a feast for the eyes and ears so get a ticket while you can.

 

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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Death Drop, Back In The Habit by Rob Evans, created by Christopher D Clegg

Review by Paul Towers, 19/1/23

Directed by Jesse Jones

Produced by Tucksop 7 Trafalgar Theatre Productions

At Curve til Saturday 21st January 2023

"This is a murder mystery with a twist. It's hilarious!"

 

Imagine, if you will, a mash-up of Sister Act and Agatha Christie via Monty Python and Comic Strip and you will have some idea of the hilarious chaos Death Drop, Back In The Habit conjures up with four alumni of Ru Paul's Drag Race UK. The queens are ably assisted in their mayhem by Drag King Louis Cyfer.

 

The plot, such as it is, involves Father Alfie Romeo (Louis Cyfer) being despatched to the eerie and spooky Convent of St Babs where Mother Superior (Victoria Scone) rules over her three nuns,

 

Sister Mary Berry (Cheryl Hole), Sister Maria Julieandrews (River Medway) and Sis Titis (Kitty Scott-Claus). There have been rumours of all sorts of goings-on and the disappearance of the previous priest sent to investigate. Father Romeo is tasked with getting to the bottom of the mysteries.

 

With lots of bad language, single entendres and loads of cultural references this is a side-splitting script that will keep any broad minded audience rolling in the aisles.

 

This show is not for the faint hearted but, if you love the bawdy drag shows you see on holiday and are a fan of Ru Paul then this is for you. This is a murder mystery with a twist. It's hilarious!

 

Death Drop is at Curve until Saturday 21st January. Grab a ticket and brighten up a dull post-Christmas period.

  

https://tuckshopuk.com/

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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Cinderella by Will Brenton (adapted by Eric Potts)

Directed by Janice Dunn

Produced by Imagine Theatre

At DeMontfort Hall until Sunday 2nd January 2023

Review by Paul Towers, 17/12/22

"a most traditional of pantomimes"

Once again Leicester is blessed with a superlative Imagine Theatre pantomime. This year it is Cinderella, the story of a put-upon daughter of an evil stepmother and her ugly (inside) stepdaughters. Dreaming of breaking free after her father dies, Cinderella is presented with a way out. Love and marriage to a handsome prince. Maybe they could even flee to California and a Netflix deal! (Sorry, I made that last bit up!)

So, the scene is set for this most traditional of pantomimes.

A talented cast led by dance duo AJ & Curtis Pritchard of Strictly and Love Island respectively and, replacing injured Leicester stalwart Martin Ballard is Richard J Fletcher as Dame Penny Pockets. Returning for his second panto in Leicester is the appropriately named New Zealand comic Jared Christmas as Buttons. The title role of Cinderella is Evie Pickerill, a CBBC favourite, who has a most enchanting voice. On which subject it must be noted that Curtis Pritchard has a great singing voice. Who knew?

The Pritchard boys have great fun with some fine slapstick moments while Richard J Fletchers' dame copes wonderfully with both the silly songs and the audience interaction.

As the villainous stepmother Baroness Verruca Wibble, Jacob Kholi whips up a storm of boos whenever he/she makes an entrance. While the ugly sisters, Claudia & Tess Wibble (I wonder where the inspiration for those names came from?) Sophie Camble and Millie Robins, shriek like Essex harridans as they try and impress Prince Charming.

Appearing from the wings just as things threaten to get out of hand Madison Swan's Fairy Godmother wields her magic wand to make everything right. Her greatest feat is, at the end of the first half, creating a beautiful stagecoach and white horse that flies off to the castle with Cinderella realising her dream. Cinderella's dress transformation from drudge to princess got gasps from the young audience around me.

An ensemble of talented young actors are supplemented with the traditional coterie of local dancers. Tonight, it was the Buttons Team who injected some youthful energy into proceedings.

This family friendly production is littered with awful puns, lots of cheese jokes, local references and a few gags for the grown-ups. A perfect festive treat for everyone.

Cinderella is at De Montfort Hall until Sunday 2nd January 2023 with a specially relaxed performance on Wednesday 28th December at 1pm and a BSL performance at the 5pm performance on the same date

Paul Towers: www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

www.demontforthall.co.uk/event/cinderella

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Sleeping Beauty by Morgan Brind

Directed & designed by Morgan Brind

Produced by Little Wolf Entertainment & Loughborough Town Hall

At Loughborough Town Hall until Monday 2nd January 2023

Review by Paul Towers, 25/11/2022

"a traditional pantomime with lots of added glitz"

 

If you want a traditional pantomime with lots of added glitz, then Loughborough Town Hall's 2022 offering of Sleeping Beauty from Little Wolf Entertainment is perfect for you.

 

Whilst the basic story is as old as time the modern references make it fresh and current. This doesn't detract from the traditions that seasoned panto goers will relish. It is all there on stage; the handsome prince, the beautiful princess, the dozy jester, the outrageous dame and a villain to give Maleficent a run for her money. The story is simple a desperate king and queen make an enemy of the King's sister, Carabosse, when they fail to invite her to their longed for daughter's christening. Good Fairy Lights is only able to mitigate the curse to that of a 100 year sleep. The Prince vows to find the sleeping princess and awaken her with a kiss and everyone lives happily ever after.

 

Victoria Lucie as Princess Rose is a lot feistier that Sleeping Beauty of old, a welcome sign of the times. Jake Reynolds as Prince Vince is the typically wet, nice but dim love interest. Oliver Stanley as the King booms his way around the castle trying desperately to protect his daughter while the comedy duo of Nurse Nancy Nightly (Sean McKenzie) and Mervin The Magician/Jester (Harry Polden) provide much of the laughter and litter the evening with a few jokes for the grown-ups but mainly plenty of groan-worthy puns for the kids.

 

Marisa Harris as Carabosse has great fun chewing up the scenery and getting booed at every turn.

 

The main cast are boosted by several teams of young local dancers who take it in turns over the run.

 

The staging, designed by the author, is extravagant with glitter and gold everywhere. As a nod to old school pantos there is an imaginative black light sequence where Prince Vince fights his way through the forest to the sleeping princess.

 

The costumes, designed by Sara Rose, are a triumph of glamour, while Nurse Nancy Nightly has dozens of costume changes, each outfit more outrageous than the last. As it should be.

 

This is a great panto for introducing children to theatre. There is a sing-along, audience participation and lots of laughs. There is even a huge dragon!

Sleeping Beauty runs at Loughborough Town Hall until Monday 2nd January 2023.

 

www.loughboroughtownhall.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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The Wizard of Oz based on the book by L Frank Baum, adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams.

Music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by E Y Harberg, additional music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, additional lyrics by Tim Rice

Directed by Nikolai Foster, choreographed by Shay Barclay

Produced by Curve by arrangement with The Really Useful Group Ltd

At Curve until Sunday 8th January 2023

Review by Paul Towers, 24/11/22

"a sensational production"

 

Well, what can I say about this sensational production of an old classic? Curve's Nikolai Foster has gathered together a team of creatives to really bring the show uptodate. Be warned this is nothing like the cosy Judy Garland version. With pyrotechnics and flashing lights, to say nothing of the day-glo costumes by Rachael Canning, this is a huge festive treat for adults and children alike. Although some caution is recommended for the under 6's.

Curve's extraordinary video projection facilities are put to good use here with a full stage scene setting tour of 1930's Kansas. A large cast of 22 and a live orchestra of 11 under the stage are well served by Curve favourite Ben Cracknell's imaginative lighting. Georgina Onuorah, making her Curve debut, is a feisty Dorothy with her trusty dog, Toto (ably puppet-ed by Ben Thompson) taking us on her journey along the iconic yellow brick road.

 

Meeting up with Scarecrow (a very athletic Jonny Fines making a welcome return to Curve), Tin Man (Paul French) and The Cowardly Lion (Giovanni Spano) Dorothy embarks on her quest to meet The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Mark Peachy back at Curve once again). As The Wicked Witch of the West Ellie Mitchell took over from a sick Charlottee Jaconelli at short notice and gave it her all.

 

There is a plethora of electric vehicles from trucks to scooters (for Glinda, Christina Bianco) and huge set pieces that either fly down or roll in. A talented ensemble are everything from Munchkins to palace guards changing costumes in what seems a blink of an eye.

 

As well as all the well-remembered songs from the movie Lloyd Webber and Rice have woven several new ones in to move the narrative along. There are also plenty of snippets of dialogue added for today's audience.

 

Overall, this is a visually superb production of a family favourite given a modern spritz.

 

The Wizard of Oz is on at Curve until Sunday 8th January.

 

Curve: www.curveonline.co.uk

 

Paul Towers: www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Produced by Simon friend

Review by Paul Towers, 2/11/22

At Curve til Saturday 5 November 2022

"Feel good theatre for a wet November"

This is a star-studded stage production of the beloved film and TV series by Deborah Moggach based on her novel These Foolish Things.

Taking inspiration from all the tales of ex-pats moving to the Costa Brava this takes it one stage further as a group of retirees up sticks and move to Bangalore in India. Their motivation is that it is warm and cheap.

Some just want to bask in the sun and wait for the inevitable end while others look upon it as a new adventure.

Heading up the cast is acting royalty, Hayley Mills as Evelyn, a shy, diffident widow who doesn't know how to emerge from the shadow of her deceased husband. Alongside her is Rula Lenska as Madge, a statuesque redhead looking for a maharajah to whisk her off her feet and keep her in the manner to which she wants to be accustomed.

The rest of the cast of characters each have their own stories to tell, some happy, some sad but all thrown together in this exotic mix of cultures in a strange land.

While the locals are, initially, stereotyped as servile second class citizens it quickly becomes obvious that they have much to teach the ex-pats.

There are lots of laughs right from the start as well as pointed digs at colonialism, poverty, the caste system, old age and call centres! But at the heart of the story is how different people deal with loss and old age in their own ways.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is at Curve until Saturday 5th November and then touring until it hits the West End next year

www.marigoldshow.com

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

 

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The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King, adapted for the stage by Owen O'Neill & Dave Johns

Review by Paul Towers, 10/10/2022

Directed by David Esbjornson

Produced by Bill Kenwright

At Curve Until Saturday 15th October 2022

"A strong production of this beloved classic "

 

Many people will have seen the 1994 film with Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman and this stage version stays quite close to the storyline.


Adapted from a Stephen King short story, The Shawshank Redemption is the story of Andy Dufresne (Joe Absolom) who has been wrongly convicted of the double murder of his unfaithful wife and their daughter.  He is soon taken under the wing of Ellis 'Red' Redding (Ben Onwukwe), the prison supplier of all illicit goods.

While many would spend their last breath trying every way to prove their innocence Dusfresne decides to keep his head down and just try and get through his sentence with the least trouble. Unfortunately, his fellow prisoners have other ideas, and a vicious round of beatings and rapes force him to alter his survival strategy. Utilising his accounting abilities, he inveigles himself in with the prison staff as a financial advisor. This doesn't make him any less unpopular with the inmates, but it does afford him some protection by the management.

 

A brutalist set of concrete and girders by Gary McCann ensures this stage version is as claustrophobic and utilitarian as it needs to be. Furniture is carried on and off while a minimum of backdrops fly from above.

 

Joe Absolom has exactly the right air of naivety and innocence while Ben Onwukwe channels Morgan Freeman as the narrator addressing the audience.

 

The sex and violence is well choreographed while the ensemble raucously provide the chaos inherent whenever the delicate balance of power is upset.

 

The Shawshank Redemption continues to tour https://tinyurl.com/4bnk84z6 and is at Curve until Saturday 15 October 2022.

 

Curve: www.curveonline.co.uk

 

Paul Towers: www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

 

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CINDERELLA CAST INTERVIEWS

 On at De Montfort Hall From 10 Dec to 2nd Jan 2023

What a fun afternoon! I was lucky enough to be invited along to the Press Launch for this year's De Montfort Hall Pantomime, Cinderella.

 

 

 

 

 

Once again, Imagine Theatre are heading up the Christmas entertainment for families of all ages at Leicester's premier concert venue.

Judging by the mayhem during the photo shoot this year's cast are going to have a hoot.

My first sit down chat was with just-signed Madison Swann fresh from appearing in Tony Blair The Musical and a 2.5 year run in The Book of Mormon in London's West End. Madison is playing the Fairy Godmother in her very first pantomime. She has done stints in Disneyland Paris as a performer so working with a raucous audience of children doesn't scare her. Also her experience working as a nanny will stand her in good stead. She is just grateful that she can give them back to their parents after the show!

Next on my list was New Zealand comic Jarred Christmas returning for a second year as Buttons. Well known to UK audiences for his stand-up tours and appearances on TV panel shows, Christmas is a big, cuddly bundle of laughs and was hilariously disruptive in this afternoon's photo shoot. After last year's subdued panto due to Covid, Jarred is looking forward to abandoning the social distancing that was necessary. While the main characters of Cinderella and The Fairy Godmother are essential for pushing the story along Jarred revels in the freedom that the comedy characters must just have a laugh. We have to watch out for his gusset issues. Last year he split his trousers on opening night and, so far, that wardrobe malfunction occurred on the photoshoot. But that may not be the end of it for this year!

This year's star turns, for many, will be the dance duo brothers AJ and Curtis Pritchard. Following on from the success of their appearance in Imagine Theatre's Cinderella last year in Wolverhampton the boys are again playing Prince Charming and Dandini to Evie Pickerill's Cinders. A perfect fit for this couple of jokers who spend so much time ribbing each other. AJ as the Prince is small but perfectly formed while Curtis is much more like a big old Labrador and quite the practical joker. Their onstage high jinks promise to be hilarious.

And as if that is not enough from the boys’ fans will have the opportunity to get tickets for An Evening with ... on Friday 30th December or for Meet'n'Greets on Tuesday 20th, Friday 23rd and Tuesday 27th December. These extra tickets are only available to book when buying regular show tickets. Check the website for details.

Saving the best til last I sat down for a chat with the panto legend that is Martin Ballard. Giving us his Dame Penny in his 31st year in panto, Martin is hoping that last year's leg injury will not reoccur, and he can do every performance again. Up until recently Martin was a stalwart of BBC Radio Leicester but, having been offered redundancy, he has been able to take on a lot more interesting freelance work. But Radio Leicester hasn't seen the last of him. He keeps popping up with various shows. We soon got onto chatting about how much he missed last year's Sleeping Beauty and how important he thinks pantomime is for introducing youngsters to the magic of theatre. He is also passionate about it being a great training ground for young wannabe actors to gain theatrical experience.

The booking office is open for tickets to see Cinderella which runs from 10th December to 2nd January. Don't forget tickets for the extra events with AJ and Curtis are only available to main show ticketholders and must be booked in advance.

https://www.demontforthall.co.uk/event/cinderella/

Paul Towers: www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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Billy Elliot The Musical

Review by Paul Towers, 20/7/22

Music by Elton John, book & lyrics by Lee Hall

Directed by Nikolai Foster, choreographed by Lucy Hind

A Made at Curve production

At Curve til Saturday 20th August 2022

"Nikolai Foster has taken an iconic favourite and given it a new perspective"

Way back in 2000 the original film of Billy Elliot (originally to be called The Dancer) took the Cannes Film Festival by storm and a musical adaptation was started work on. It was 2005 before it opened in London's West End and that has been the definitive stage version ever since despite productions notably in Australia and the US. This is the first time a director (Nikolai Foster) has been given free rein to adapt the script and staging. The main differences seem to be the lack of tap dancing and quite a bit more laughter.

Set against the 1984 miners' strike Billy (an astonishingly talented Jaden Shentall-Lee at tonight's Press Night) is an orphaned 11-year-old being brought up by a macho miner father (Joe Caffrey). His only real female role model is his aged grandmother (Rachel Izen) who shows him how dance helped her survive her abusive late husband. For Billy this is an escape route from the toxic masculine world of his home life. But trying to break free from the future he seems to have mapped out for him needs determination and strength. With the help of the formidable Mrs Wilkinson (Sally Ann Triplett) he discovers the wonderful world of ballet. Spurred on by his best friend Michael (Prem Masani) Billy embraces his differentness.

Having been trusted by the original creators to alter the show Foster has refocussed the story more on Billy. That said the extreme division the strike caused in communities not far from our city are still felt today which makes this revival especially pertinent especially with similar cracks today caused by Brexit and other social issues.

The set, designed by Michael Taylor is suitably industrial with gantries and chain fences as backdrops. Central to the story is the Elliot house, an intriguing 3 story edifice of kitchen bedroom and bathroom up and down which poor Billy has to climb regularly. Much use is made of the many ways to exit and enter the stage in Curve's main house and crowds of striking miners and police frequently flooded down the aisles.

Lighting designer Ben Cracknell has ignored the energy crisis and taken full advantage of Curve's extensive lighting rig to provide atmosphere.

Musical director George Dyer has his 7-piece band ensconced in the eerie of the scaffolding at the back of the stage thus providing a full soundtrack to the action before them.

With a huge cast including local dancers and a team of four Billys this is a full-blooded new production which, 40 years after the original action, still resonates across the Midlands and the North. Nikolai Foster has taken an iconic favourite and given it a new perspective.

A very welcome surprise during this unexpected heatwave was a free bottle of water left on every seat courtesy of Curve's management. Much appreciated by this sweating hack!

Billy Elliot The Musical runs at Curve until Saturday 20th August (not the 14th as originally scheduled)

Curve: www.curveonline.co.uk

Paul Towers: www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

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Riot Act  by Alexis Gregory

Review by Paul Towers, 7/7/22

Directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair

Produced by Alexis Gregory & Emmerson Ward Productions

At Curve 7 July 2022 and then touring

"How Gay history has evolved"

Fifty-three years ago, two momentous things happened. Judy Garland died, and the Stonewall Riots happened. The two events are forever intertwined in gay history.

Riot Act is a theatrical triptych of how this moment in history has coloured gay civil rights to this day.

Michael is a New York drag queen who, at the age of 17, was actually at the Stonewall Riot. Too young to be in the thick of it he circled the periphery helping the injured. This meant he was able to see how everything unfolded, the police brutality, the Mafia intervention and how the fight-back on that night became the Gay Liberation movement.

Alexis' next character, Lavinia, is a radical drag artist, a member of the infamous Bloo Lips troop in the 70's challenging gender politics long before the current woke brigade.

His third character, Paul, is a prominent AIDS activist, campaigning to this day for the very best medical treatment and awareness. His experiences of how AIDS patients were treated is horrific.

All three of these characters are real people, interviewed by Gregory and their lives distilled into funny, sad and sometimes unbearable stories that we should all listen to lest the same mistakes are made again.

Alexis Gregory is not only an amazing actor, but his writing skills are astonishing. Each character is clearly defined as we enter their world.

This is theatre that should be compulsory viewing for every young gay stepping out into the world for the first time. They should be learning from the elder gays that went before them

www.alexisgregory.co.uk

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

 

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Glastonbudget 2022

2-4th June 2022

Turnpost Farm, Wymeswold, Leicestershire

Reviewed by Richard Perry

After two years of thumb twiddling, Glastonbudget roared back to Turnpost Farm in Wymesworld with a spectacular three-day event of classic tribute acts and local music.

Whilst many celebrated the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, over 8000 of us committed treason and went to a big field in Leicestershire, to relive our misspent youth in the company of  some of the world's most iconic stars - sort of. Glastonbudget, still the world's best tribute and new music festival, and now something of a legend - didn't disappoint.

There was a definite Royal theme to this year’s shenanigans. Alongside a Guinness world record attempt to get the most people together wearing paper crowns, the magnificent Queen tribute, Mercury, strode the main stage on Thursday evening as Joseph Lee Jackson personified Freddie’s iconic vocals in a full-on show. This was ahead of the Bootleg Beatles tour-de-force reliving the Fab Four’s career from the Cavern to their last appearance on the top of the Apple Corps building in London in 1969.

I’m not sure what The Queen would have thought of Friday’s nod to the Jubilee through the eyes of Johnny Rotten, but tribute band, The Pistols, managed to accurately reflect just how "unique" the Sex Pistols actually were. They’re marmite. You either think they were iconic 70’s rebels who kick started a musical revolution and stuck it to the man; or you think they were rubbish. I think they were the convenient face of Malcolm Mclarren's marketing exercise to sell safety pins. The Pistols were still good n' tight, but being better musicians and performers than the original won’t save you from the suckage of narrow source material. Stick them in the Big Top next time. Punk has not aged well, neither has Friggin’ in The Riggin’.

No matter what your musical tastes, and you won’t like everything, there are crowd pleasers aplenty across the three-field site. While we’ll never see Amy Winehouse, The Police, Bowie, Thin Lizzy and many others perform live on stage again, their avatars in the form of exceptionally talented musicians, keep their spirit alive. There’s an ever-expanding nostalgia market being catered for by some big budget, full scale shows that are about as close to the original as it's possible to get without having a Tardis. Some are uncannily accurate like Pure Paloma. She was so close, for a second, I thought it was Paloma Faith trolling herself.

Glastonbudget is a big, shiny, slick, sing-along of classic and current hit makers.  Never got the chance to see Neil and Chris do a gig? Here’s the Alternative Pet Shop Boys instead. Can you tell the difference? No, you can’t, so shut up and enjoy it. Leicester lads Kasabian not touring? Doesn’t matter, see their duplicates in the Big Top. Not an Ed Sheeran fan? Me neither, but there’s Human League tribute a short hop away. Something for everyone.

There are still naysayers whinging: “But it’s not the real Pink Floyd, Boy George, UB40, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, AC/DC etc, etc”. Well good luck trying to see all the originals in a Leicestershire field for £113.

Local bands have the chance to experience a little festival glitter. The icon stage between the Big Top and Main Stage is where you’ll find them playing their hearts out, sometimes, to absolutely no one. Very often, the only time a band gets an audience is when people are walking between the two bigger stages and stop by out of curiosity. It’s such a shame because there’s a lot of talent out there that deserve our ears. It is still a valuable experience getting on a stage, performing and being professionally mixed by experts.

There’s a ton of stuff to keep you occupied if your ears are a bit numb from the music. The traditional festival knickknack and food concessions ring the edges of the fields and if you fancy driving some dodgems or going down a big slide, then you’re in luck. And don’t forget the Fancy Dress! There’s a lot of it. Even Captain Jack Sparrow himself made an appearance to celebrate his recent court victory!

Glastonbudget is still good value for money, at well below half of Glastonbury’s ticket prices, and still a great way for kids and the uninitiated to dip their toes into festival life. The music is popular, familiar, and well performed by the country’s best tribute artists and there’s enough to do if you’re camping overnight or going VIP.

Next year’s Early Bird tickets are on sale now at www.glastonbudget.org

Richard Perry Twitter @richperry

www.glastonbudget.org

 

 

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Cluedo by Sandy Rustin based on the screenplay by Jonathan LynnjOK

Review by Paul Towers, 6/6/22

Directed by Mark Bell

Produced by Kilimanjaro Theatricals, Gabriel Creative Ptnrs, The Acarca Group & Lively McCabe Ent.

At Curve til Saturday 11th June 2022

"an hilarious, over-acted piece of nonsense"

This is "a British play based on an American play, based on an American film, based on a British board game". The board game we can all probably recall from family Christmases of yester year. It was invented in 1949 and this production wisely retains the period feel. Reminiscent of a spoof of an Agatha Christie country house murder Cluedo plays it for broad (very broad) laughs right from the beginning. In Jean-Luke Worrell as the butler, Wadsworth, the production has found a positive master of physical comedy. Unsurprisingly Worrell cut his West End teeth in The Comedy About A Bank Robbery. Michelle Collins' understudy, Meg Travers, was on as Miss Scarlett and Georgia Bradley took Mrs White's part.

The set is a typical multi-doored country house but with a twist. Various parts of the walls open out like origami to reveal other rooms. This makes for much well choreographed entrances and exits to good comic effect.

Obviously, I am not going to say whodunnit, even if I was completely sure who did do it. Which I am not. Suffice to say this is an hilarious, over-acted piece of nonsense which will leave you giggling to yourself as you stumble out into the summer night

Cluedo runs at Curve until Saturday 11th June and then continues to tour

Curve: www.curveonline.co.uk

Paul Towers: www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

Cluedo Play: https://www.cluedostageplay.com/

 

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The Homecoming by Harold Pinter

Review by Paul Towers, 27/4/22

Directed by Jamie Glover

Produced by Theatre Royal, Bath

At Curve til Saturday 30th April 2022

"a star studded cast"

A star-studded cast is led by Keith Allen as patronising, misogynistic patriarch Max, channelling both Alf Garnett and Albert Steptoe, snarling at his three sons who are, unusually all at home at the same time. Teddy, the youngest (Sam Alexander) brings his wife, Ruth (Shanaya Rafaat) home from America for the first time in their six year marriage to meet his father and older brothers Lenny (Matthew Horne), Sam (Ian Bartholomew) and Joey (Geoffrey Lumb). This being Harold Pinter there are long pauses and lots of the darkest humour.

Lenny is a know-it-all wide boy pimp pontificating to imply intellect while Joey is the dim demolition worker and failed boxer. Father Max is a retired butcher with a gammy leg still missing his deceased wife. Max's brother, Sam is a chauffeur and single, still lives in the family home.

Introducing his wife into this testosterone fuelled household is a big mistake for Teddy as the men all vie for her attention, thus adding coals to the fire of her fantasy of escaping her mundane life with her husband and three sons.

Just as you are coming to terms with the snarling point scoring of the men a lightening bolt of black humour pulls you up and we see the ridiculous machismo that is prevalent in the household.

Then downtrodden wifey, Ruth, suddenly bares her teeth and the tables are turned. In the end we have to wonder whether the men have succeeded in putting one over on her or whether she has subtly bent them to her will.

The set, a huge empty North London house echoes their lives while the real life lighting effects engender a layer of realism.

The Homecoming continues touring til May.

www.curveonline.co.uk

www.ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

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The Cher Show by Rick Elice, music as performed by Cher1

Produced by Live Nation

Review by: Paul Towers, 19 April 2022

At Curve: 15 – 23 April 2022 and then touring

"packed with snappy one-liners ensuring there are plenty of laughs"

For anyone around in the 50's, 60's, 70's, in fact right up to the modern day this is the music show for you. From the moment that the 16-year-old Cherilyn Sarkisian met 27 year old Sonny Bono an icon was born. Through her (many) relationships Cher has continuously been faithful to her fans and, despite crippling self doubt, became what may refer to as the Goddess of Pop.

The Cher Show very cleverly uses a trio of actresses to represent each phase of her life but they also represent the combined strengths of her character.

Babe (Millie O'Connell) is the baby of the story, brought up by her mother Georgia (Tori Scott) who constantly told her she could be whatever she wants. Lady (Danielle Steers) is the mid-life Cher, still working things out, mother to two and going through men like a knife through butter. But still not satisfied with her life. Finally, there is Star (Debbie Kurup), the diva we have all grown to love. Together this triumvirate make up the whole Cher, independent and in control of her life.

All three of the actresses have amazing singing voices and all perfectly capture Cher's vocals to perfection.

As Sonny Bono Lucas Rush portrays the only average singer but very controlling manager/husband who is the butt of all the jokes that Sony & Cher made on stage. Jake Mitchell is archly camp and over the top as Bob Mackie, Cher's costume designer in later years.

This is a big show with a supporting 'entourage' of 12 outrageously choreographed by ex-Strictly professional Oti Mabuse. The direction by also ex-Strictly Arlene Phillips (last seen at Curve at the helm of Grease) is vibrant and highly energetic.

This is far from a jukebox musical as it has a strong storyline with some of the songs barely getting a line while others warrant a full rendition. There is no feeling that songs have been shoehorned into the narrative.

The script by Rick Elice is packed with snappy one-liners ensuring there are plenty of laughs. But what else do you expect from Cher?

The singing is so good there is no need for auto-tune (as Georgia points out) and the only way this show could be any camper would be if Cher was played by a drag queen!

The Cher Show is at Curve until 23 April and then tours nationwide

Curve: https://www.curveonline.co.uk/
The Cher Show: https://cheronstage.com/

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

 

 

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Beautiful – The Carole King Musical

Review by: Paul Towers, 03/03/22

Book by Douglas McGraith, words & music by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil

Directed by Nikolai Foster

A Curve, Royal Bath and Mayflower Southampton co-production

At Curve: 28 Feb – 12 March and then touring

"a fabulous, musical production"

At just 16 years old, New Yorker Carole King precociously sells her first song to music publisher Donnie Krishner. She has no aspirations to be a singer and is happy putting music to her often unfulfilling lyrics. Then she meets lyricist Gerry Goffin and they start to collaborate, in all sorts of ways. Inevitably Carol falls pregnant and Gerry 'does the decent thing' and marries her. While slaving away at Krishner's 1650 Broadway music factory the pair of songwriters come across another aspiring couple of composers, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Immediately there is friction and competition as they battle for publishing kudos in the Billboard Chart. This spurs both couples on creatively. However the pressure of work spills over into their private life and Goffin strays, eventually splitting up the marriage.

The entire show is dependent on the actress playing Carol King and here Molly-Grace Cutler more than steps up to the plate as an accomplished singer and pianist. In fact all the cast play at least one instrument as well as sing. As Gerry Goffin Tom Miner is an accomplished rock musician having toured in, amongst other shows, American Idiot. While there are plenty of laughs throughout it is Seren Sandham-Davies' Cynthia Weil and Jos Slovick as Barry Mann who have the main comedy moments.

While this is Carole King's story there are plenty of songs that are not by her which add context to the era. There is great choral backup by The Shirelles (Naeomi Alade, Amenal El-Kindy and Louise Francis) and The Drifters (Kemi Clarke, Myles Miller & Kevin Yates).

The set is, as is by now a signature Curve feature, is magnificently lit by Ben Cracknell and designed by Frankie Bradshaw.

This is a fabulous, musical production telling the story of Carole King's early career. You will recognise lots of her songs but will also be surprised by the ones she wrote but never sang.

Once again Curve has been chosen to kick start a national tour, only this time with the added prestige of our very own resident director at the helm.

Beautiful runs at Curve until 12th March and then tours round the country.

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

https://beautifulmusical.co.uk/

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Is He Musical? by Jude Taylor

Review by: Paul Towers, 23 February 2022

An MP Theatricals production

At Curve: 23 Feb as part of DMU Pride

"Gay life in the 1930's"

 

It's 1933 and, between wars, the bright young things are partying. Tucked away in secret locations the gay sub culture of London has its own parties.

 

Laurence (Barry O'Reilly) and Wilfred (Teddy Hinde) meet up at the Trocadero away from prying eyes. Wilfred is an old hand on the gay scene and is a footman to a lord; Laurence is a wet-behind-the-ears son of a wealthy family and looking for a mentor to steer him through his initiation into gay life. Inevitably they fall out over a man but their friendship endures.

 

Laurence is a musician and makes a living working in West End shows while Wilfred's footman is the sexual plaything of his employer.

 

This is an original musical by Jude Taylor and was work-shopped at Curve back in June 2021 and is now back as a fully fledged musical.

 

The stage is set with a bar and a lounge while there is an onstage trio of musicians, including MD Francesca Fenech, along with a handy screen.

 

Is He Musical is at The Other Palace, London 25-26th February

 

MP Theatricals: https://tinyurl.com/y7uj4kre

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

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How To Live A Jellicle Life: Life Lessons From The 2019 Hit Movie Musical 'Cats'

Review by: Paul Towers, 16 February 2022

An Awkward Production

At Upstairs at The Globe 16-17 February 2022

"Linus Karp's acclaimed homage to the film Cats"

 

Leicester Comedy Festival is back and for 3 weeks the city and surrounding area is alive with laughter.

 

I headed into a new venue to me, The Globe on Silver Street, to see Linus Karp's acclaimed homage to the film Cats.

 

Upstairs, there is a bijou performance space that holds an audience of just 40 which makes any performance very intimate.

With two sold out runs which were interrupted by the dreaded Covid, Karp is now back with an updated show with up-to-date references and is touring the whole of the UK.

 

This is an hilariously irreverent tribute to 'the 2019 hit movie musical 'cats'', as Linus insists on calling the critically mauled movie, is huge fun.

Delivered in Linus Karp's cutely idiosyncratic Swedish accent it is sometimes hard to know if he is being serious or ironic. Whatever, we laughed anyway.

With an anarchic PowerPoint presentation causing chaos this is an entertaining and sometimes educational hour for both aficionados of the film and complete newbies.

 

How To Live a Jellicle Life is on at Upstairs at The Globe again on Thursday 17th Feb. Go see it and be jellicle!

 

Book tickets at: linktr.ee/jellicle

Leicester Comedy Festival: https://comedy-festival.co.uk/

The Globe: https://www.theglobeleicester.com/
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/

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Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Review by: Paul Towers, 10/2/2022

A Michael Harrison presentation

Directed by Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison

Original music and lyrics Richard & Robert Sherman

New music and lyrics Neil Bartram

At Curve: 9 –13 February 2022

"Bobbing along until Saturday"

 

I must have seen the Disney film, released in 1971, on TV at some point but the only thing I can remember is Angela Lansbury singing Bobbing Along on a flying bed. Thankfully that little memory is still in the current touring stage version although the song is given mainly to the children.

 

So I went into the theatre with a fairly open mind and no unrealistic expectations. Which is probably a good thing as the first 5 minutes or so was baffling. It involved a simplistic scene setting dance with village hall style scenery which turned out to be at odds with the rest of the production. The purpose was to place the action at the outbreak of World War 2 with the parents of the children being killed in an air raid and the three siblings being evacuated to the country. This could have been done in a much more straightforward way and smacked of directorial self indulgence.

 

However once the children were ensconced in their safe house and the mysterious Eglantine Price (here played with great gusto by understudy Emma Thornett and channelling Mary Poppins at times) the story started to make sense.

 

The production relies a great deal on the children and their abilities.  Robin Simoes Da Silva (playing Charlie) was perfect as the older sibling while understudy Sam Lapton was an outrageous Emelius Browne, the failed magician. The other standout character was Mrs Hobday (Jacqui Dubois), the local post lady.

 

It is telling that included in the list of production staff is a Covid Manager. Sadly, a sign of the times and, with such a large cast, a vital necessity if the show is not to be cancelled at short notice.

 

All in all this is a worthwhile production but don't expect the full Disney treatment. This is a touring show that has to be economically viable. That said the flying of both the broomstick and the bed are very realistic and vast amounts of black light work keeps the magic flowing.

 

There is obviously a very complicated technical get-in for this show which is why in most venues it only stays for 4 days.

 

Tonight's show was sold out but there are a few tickets left for the rest of the week and is ideal for children of all ages.

 

Bedknobs and Broomsticks is at Curve til Saturday 13th February and then continues touring.

 

Curve: https://www.curveonline.co.uk/

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

 

https://www.bedknobsonstage.com/tour-dates

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Waitress by Jessie Nelson with music & lyrics by Sara Bareilles

Review by: Paul Towers, 24/1/22

A Crossroads Live production directed by Diane Paulus

At Curve: 24 – 29 January 2022

"laugh out loud moments blended with heartbreaking emotions"

 I first saw this show in London in 2019 and loved the skilful way that laugh out loud moments were blended with heartbreaking emotions. This touring production has lost none of the rollercoaster passions of the original.

Jenna (Aimee Fisher) is a waitress in a roadside diner somewhere in America's deep south. She endures a life with her abusive husband, Earl (Tamlyn Henderson) but comes into her own when baking the most extraordinary pies for the diner. Compared to her awful home life her work is bolstered by her two best friends, Becky (Sandra Marvin) and Dawn (Evelyn Hoskins), Finding she is pregnant, unwittingly, by her husband Jenna embarks on an affair with her timid gynaecologist, Dr Pomatter (Matt Willis).

Aimee Fisher, normally understudying Chelsea Halfpenny, more than seizes the role of Jenna, giving her all in fine voice.

Matt Willis as the Doctor shows a great sense of comic timing. Being a member of pop group Busted it's a given that he has a good singing voice.

Newcomer George Crawford as Ogie, Dawn's stalker/boyfriend/husband (eventually) has the stand out comedy song and displays a fine acrobatic capability.

Evelyn Hoskins' Dawn is comedically innocent and perfectly paired with Crawford.

Sandra Marvin's Becky has some of the best funny lines in the show and makes good use of her great attitude.

All in all this is a great production of a great show. Perhaps not entirely suitable for a young audience featuring as it does domestic violence and adult language. But an almost full auditorium gave it a well deserved standing ovation at the curtain.

Waitress is at Curve until Saturday 29 January and then continues touring.

Curve: https://www.curveonline.co.uk/

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

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Richard O'Brien's Rocky Horror Show

Review by: Paul Towers, 10/1/22

Directed by Christopher Luscombe

Produced by Trafalgar Theatre Productions and Hill Street productions

At Curve: 10 – 15 January 2022

"the original party night in a theatre"

I first saw The Rocky Horror Show way back in 1973 when Tim Curry and Richard O'Brien were still in the cast. Back then it had found a home in the Kings Road Theatre, an old cinema appropriately enough.

In the intervening almost 50 years productions have circled the globe continuously, every few years the show is tweaked to bring it up to date. But, the basic story has always stayed the same. Why mess with cult perfection?

As the Narrator (Philip Franks) intones:

It seemed a fairly ordinary night when Brad Majors and his fiancée Janet Weiss, two young, ordinary, healthy kids, left Denton that late November evening, to visit a Doctor Everett Scott, ex-tutor, and now friend to both of them. 

It's true there were dark storm clouds, heavy, black, and pendulous, towards which they were driving.  It's true, also, that the spare tire they were carrying was badly in need of some air, but, uh, they being normal kids and, on a night out... well, they were not going to let a storm spoil the events of their evening, were they?...  On a night out... It was a night out they were going to remember... for a very long time.

As lightning flashes and thunder crashes the extraordinary night unfolds. Stumbling across an eerie castle in the middle of nowhere the young couple are dragged (pun intended) into a horror show of epic proportions.

A very talented cast sing and dance up a storm (another intended pun) while the Narrator attempts to push the story along, all the while batting back the encouraged catcalls from the audience. Philip Franks obviously has a battery of ad libs at his fingertips and relishes every one of them. Kristian Lavercombe's Riff Raff is lascivious and menacing as the butler of the house but it is Stephen Webb as Frank N Furter who owns the stage as he struts, pouts, grinds and stomps across the set. As the innocent (for now) young couple who stumble across this den of iniquity, Ore Oduba (Brad) and Haley Flaherty (Janet) show fine comic timing and great singing voices.  Ben Westhead as muscle-bound hunk Rocky gives great naivety as his first day out of the lab progresses.

This iteration of the cult classic retains all the elements that have made it so popular, but the soundtrack has been brought bang up to date and the choreography is slick and energetic.

Rocky Horror Show is the original party night in a theatre. Virgins should be warned there are some naughty bits so leave your snowflakes at home.

Rocky Horror Show runs until Saturday 15 January before continuing on its 2022 national tour

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

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Sleeping Beauty

Writer/Director Janice Dunn

De Montfort Hall

Until 3rd January

Reviewed by Richard Perry

It’s loud, bouncy and colourfully silly fun.

Big panto is back with a bang at Leicester’s De Montfort Hall after last year’s hiatus.

Sleeping Beauty stars the YouTuber and BAFTA winning children’s TV presenter, Maddie Moate as a manically enthusiastic Fairy Phoenix, Coronation Street’s Wendi Peters merrily chewing the scenery as the evil fairy Carabosse and X Factor’s Andy Abraham in fine voice as King Alfie. It’s all held together by comedian Jared Christmas as the engaging Jared the Jester and the redoubtable Martin Ballad returning as the Dame, Nanny Nancy, in an increasingly flamboyant wardrobe of haute couture awfulness.  

You know the story. Princess Rose is cursed by an evil fairy… coz reasons. She’ll die before her 18th birthday party if she pricks her finger so all the spinning wheels, and presumably anything remotely pointy, are removed from the Kingdom. Can she be saved? Da Da Daaa! It’s panto, it doesn’t have to make sense.

Sleeping Beauty is loud, bouncy, and colourfully silly fun. There’re some stomping classic disco sounds to get the kids, and adults of a certain vintage, bouncing in their seats as well as some clever stage magic from (normally) Mathew Pomeroy (Luke Bell in this performance) as Prince Pablo and Natasha Lamb as Princess Rose. Bags of interaction too with lots of ‘he’s behind you’ and boos and hisses, so all the boxes are ticked.

I saw the second show, so it was still a little loose in places, but the sets crackled, especially in an eerie green and purple glow in Carabosse’s lair and I like the random appearance of a dragon! The music was on point with some grade one singing especially from Wendi Peters with her version of Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. In between the story beats, Jared the Jester and Nanny Nancy kept everyone on their toes with the traditional mix of bad jokes and slapstick.

It’s a bit of a marathon at nearly three hours with a half hour break, but youngsters will love it and the time will fly. They’ll be wowed just to be in the same building as Maddie Moate!

Richard Perry

To book visit: www.demontforthall.co.uk

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A Chorus Line by James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante
Review by:
Paul Towers, 07 December 2021

Music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban

A Made at Curve production

At Curve: 3 - 31 December 2021OK

"A Chorus Line is 'One Singular Sensation'"

 

A Chorus Line was originally conceived, directed and choreographed by Michael Bennet in 1975. In 1985 Richard Attenborough directed the film version starring Michael Douglas as director Zack.

 

The show tells the story of a group of dancers who are looking for a last chance to be on Broadway. In amongst the hopefuls are some newbies hoping for a leg up in the musical theatre business.

 

Each of the main hopefuls get a chance to shine either through dance or song (or both). Cleverly a cameraman whirls around the cast as they step into the spotlight and the footage is projected onto the back wall.

 

The cast are all excellent dancers and singers and are led by the legendary Adam Cooper returning to Curve as Zack, the director, who prowls around the stage and auditorium exerting his authority. Also returning to Leicester is Carly Mercedes Dyer who made such an impact in Curve's productions of West Side Story and The Color Purple.

Directed by Curve's own Nikolai Foster and choreographed by Ellen Kane (West Side Story) it is no wonder this is a spectacular feast for the eyes and ears. Stand out songs are 'One' (especially the finale version), 'I hope I get it' and the perennial hit 'What I did for love'. If you don't already know the soundtrack you will be pleasantly surprised at the range of genres.

This is an ageless tale of aspirations and heartbreaks.

 

The stage is virtually bare (designed by Grace Smart) but with an ambitious lighting rig that designer Howard Hudson uses as an additional cast member. An onstage band, mostly hidden on a  revolving edifice, and supervised by Tom Marshall & Tamara Saringer, gives a full throated soundtrack to the performers.

 

The main cast of 23 are supplemented by teams of 10 local dancers.

 

A Chorus Line is 'One Singular Sensation' to send you back out into the cold, wet Leicester night humming memorable songs and feeling uplifted by the megawatt finale. This is Curve's festive treat and runs all the way through December to 31st.

 

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

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Harpy by Philip Meeks, starring Su Pollard

Review by: Paul Towers, 11 November 2021

Produced by Something For The Weekend

At Curve: 11-12 November 2021

"Su Pollard is a revelatory tour de force"

 Harpy [ hahr-pee ]
(1) (lowercase) a scolding, nagging, bad-tempered woman; shrew.

 

Birdie has mental health problems. She has unfairly been called a harpy, a psycho, a mad woman.  But so long as she keeps taking her medication, she can be self-sufficient. Her flat is crammed full of mementoes, and not just of her life. She picks up things that people have discarded in case they are important. She has lost things in her life and would hate for someone to lose something just because nobody looked after it. She has a love/hate relationship with her social workers and often refuses to engage with them. She has been pigeonholed as 'mentally ill' but really, she considers herself just to be 'different'. Who are we to judge?

Award winning playwright Philip Meeks has created Harpy especially for national treasure Su Pollard and it perfectly fits her capabilities being in turns hilarious and poignant, all played out against the soundtrack of the 80's

The first half is peppered with killer lines like "Just because I kept a Jehovah's Witness in the broom cupboard for 3 days suddenly, I'm Joseph Fritzel!" which suddenly take you by surprise.

The second half, when Birdie has stopped taking her medication, delves into her back story and goes some way to explaining how she has got to where she is. Sad as it all is humour is never far away as Birdie battles with her neighbours and her social workers.

Su Pollard is a revelatory tour de force in this hilarious one-woman show directed by Abigail Anderson.

Tour details available at: https://www.sftw.info/harpy

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

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Tell Me On A Sunday by Andrew Lloyd Webber & Don Black

Review by: Paul Towers, 12 October 2021

The Watermill Theatre production

Starring Jodie Prenger, directed by Paul Foster

At Curve: 12-16 October 2021

 "A girl’s loves found and lost in America"

The original score for Tell Me was premiered, as so often with Lloyd Webber shows, at his Sydmonton Festival in 1979 starring Marti Webb. The positive reception was so good that it was filmed in a theatre and broadcast on the BBC. This led to the soundtrack album becoming a chart topper. The score, all songs and no dialogue, only ran for less than 60 minutes so Lloyd Webber, after advice from Cameron Mackintosh, decided to create a dance piece to create an Act 2. This went out as Song and Dance with a variety of singers and, starting with Wayne Sleep, a selection of dancers.

In 2003 5 extra songs were created and the story rewritten by Jackie Clune to enable the show to stand alone. In this format it has been touring off and on ever since. Jodie Prenger starred in the Watermill Theatre revival in 2016 and has been touring it bringing it to Curve for a week.

Emma, the girl of the story, is a naïve young woman from Muswell Hill who has moved to America in search of love. In New York she discovers her boyfriend has been tom-catting it around the city. Walking out on him she soon falls for Hollywood producer Sheldon Bloom and tries to change to become what he wants in a trophy girlfriend. But Sheldon is way too busy being in the film industry to give her the attention she deserves so once again she goes back to the Big Apple. One after another she hooks up with guys who only want one thing, only to have it rubbed in her face by her so called friends.

A series of conversations with various people and letters to her mother back in Blighty fill out her experiences.

Alone on a stage, Jodie Prenger fills Curve's studio space without amplification. Her full voice reaching the back stalls with ease. A As she acts out the various emotions it is immediately obvious what is going on. A minimum of props and several (very quick) costume changes show Emma's criss-crossing of America as she chases another possible Mr Right.

A band of 4 live musicians lurk behind a set depicting the New York skyline.

I remember seeing Marti Webb in this show and Jodie Prenger more than matches her performance and is well worth seeing

Tell Me On A Sunday is at Curve until Saturday 16th October.

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

Curve: https://www.curveonline.co.uk/

www.tellmeontour.co.uk
 

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Matthew Bourne's the Midnight Bell

Review by: Paul Towers, 11 October 2021

A New Adventures production

At Curve: 11th to 16th October 2021

"30's Soho in all its shabbiness"

Any Matthew Bourne production is something to be savoured but a brand new piece is to be hotly anticipated and embraced. The Midnight Bell does not disappoint.

This, Bourne's latest dance show, centres around a shabby Soho pub in the 1930's. With the Great War well and truly over it was thought hostilities were behind us. Little did we know what was lurking at the back end of the 30's.

Inspired by Patrick Hamilton's painfully personal stories of his experiences in the acutely observed world of Soho, The Midnight Bell is where an array of characters love, lose or fall apart. Each relationship tells a complete story, some successful, others not so. Often the stories overlap and this gives a realistic edge to the narrative.

As with many of Bourne's works the cast are integral in the choreography process.

The set by long time collaborator Lez Brotherston is a masterful piece made of sections that place the action in various hotel rooms, cinemas, dance halls and squares. Lez's costumes perfectly chime with that inter-war period when austerity was starting to drift away.

Lighting by Paule Constable, another regular artistic associate of New Adventures, highlights the action and provides focus on the characters as their stories unfold. The soundtrack by Paul Groothuis is especially inventive with, unusually, songs that characters mime to.

Of course none of this would work without the incredibly talented dancers, most of whom we regularly see in other Bourne productions. It is the actors who, staying in character, shift props and scenery. This further cements their characteristics.

The Midnight Bell is at Curve until Saturday 16th October and then continues on tour

Curve: https://www.curveonline.co.uk/
 

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

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Everybody's Talking About Jamie by Dan Gillespie Sell, Jonathan Butterell & Tom Macrae

Review by: Paul Towers, 20 September 2021

 A Sheffield Theatres Production

At Curve: 20 – 25th September 2021 & touring

"the perfect uplifting, joyous musical we need to prove that theatre is back"

I saw the original London production of Everybody's Talking About Jamie back in 2018 and loved it. Last year, I was really looking forward to seeing the touring production with Layton Williams and Shane Richie, but Covid threw a spanner in the works. So I was thrilled to see it being one of the first touring shows to reopen Curve and I wasn't disappointed. In fact it exceeded my expectations.

Layton Williams has been to Curve in all sorts of productions over the years but his Jamie New has made him the star he was always destined to be. Alongside him is Shane Richie giving a surprisingly good turn as ageing drag queen Hugo and his alter ego Loco Chanelle. Jamie's best friend, Pritti Pasha, is played by Sharan Phull and is a welcome returning artiste. A vocal friend of Curve, Shobna Gulati, surprises everyone as the foul mouthed, say-it-as-it-is, surrogate Aunty to Jamie, Ray. While Amy Ellen Richardson as Margaret New, Jamie's supportive mother Margaret, almost brings the house down with her rendition of  He's My Boy. George Sampson, winner of Britain's Got Talent in 2008, has fun playing Jamie's nemesis, Dean Paxton, who finally sees the error of his ways.

The main cast are ably supported by an ensemble of teen-looking singer/dancers and a trio of drag queens.

The story, based on the BBC 3 documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, is of a Sheffield schoolboy who all his life wants to be a drag queen. The first step towards this is to go to his school prom in a frock. Understandably there are bigoted people, including his own father,  who can't accept  that he is different. But, with the support of most of his school friends, and his mother and Ray, his dream comes true. I loved that there were many jokey references to Covid.

The set is almost identical to the West End one and the production values are just as high. A hugely talented and energetic cast make this the perfect uplifting, joyous musical we need to prove that theatre is back.

While it was very obvious that Curve had put in all sorts of protocols to ensure audience members are as safe as possible it was very disappointing to see that a large number of the audience refused to wear masks despite the many reminders on screens and via audio announcements.

Curve https://www.curveonline.co.uk/

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

Show link: https://tinyurl.com/JamieTour

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Cat On A Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams

Curve, English Touring Theatre & Liverpool Everyman  & Playhouse co-production

At Curve: 3 – 18 September 2021 and then touring

Review by: Paul Towers, 08 September 2021

"a toxic look at American Deep South sensibilities"

 

Once again Curve is the launch pad for a new national touring production. This time it is the classic Tennessee Williams' Cat On A Hot Tin Roof directed by RTST Sir Peter Hall Director Award winner Anthony Almeida.

 

Following on from the success of Curve's A Streetcar Named Desire, this is a similarly toxic look at American Deep South sensibilities in the 50's.

 

Three couples within the same family are warring with each other. Brick (Oliver Johnstone) and Maggie (Sienna Kelly) are stuck in a childless, loveless marriage as Brick turns to drink to hide from truths. Maggie is in turn desperate and manipulative trying to get a reaction from her husband who is recovering from a broken ankle.

 

Eldest son of the family, Gooper (Sam Alexander), is browbeaten by his wife Mae (Shanaya Rafaat) who has born him 5 children with one on the way. In Gooper's eyes this should make him top dog in the family but Brick is, despite his wayward ways, the chosen one. Head of the family, Big Daddy (Peter Forbes), has been in hospital being tested for cancer. His wife, Big Mama (Teresa Banham), inveigles the entire family to lie to him and pretend he only has a spastic colon.

 

Thus the scene is set for all manner of  chicanery as the various couples manoeuvre to become the heirs to the family fortune. The various couples fight each other very like the protagonists in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, one minute tearing chunks out of each and the next wooing their partners. It makes for a whirlwind of emotions.

 

The cast is completed with Suzette Llewellyn as Dr Baugh and Minal Patel as Rev Tooker.

 

Director Anthony Almeida makes great use of the various characters talking and shouting over each other to illustrate how none of the parties ever actually listen to each other.

 

Despite being written in 1955 Cat On A Hot Tin Roof  addresses questions about sexuality with Brick and others examining his relationship with his late best friend Skipper.

 

The set has been pared right back to a simple circular mosquito net enclosing a table. That's it. But designer Rosanna Vize uses the curtains to suggest a whole house. The lighting helped enormously.

 

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof runs at Curve until 18th September and then tours to Liverpool, Canterbury, Ipswich and Southampton

 

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

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The Phantom Of The Opera

Produced by Cameron Mackintosh & The Really Useful Group.

Music & Lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart & Richard Stillgoe

Based on the novel by Gaston Leroux

At Curve in Leicester 5th March - 21st March 2020

Reviewed by Richard Perry

‘Simply stunning’

“Okay… Wow!” I thought when the spots faded out on the prologue. As the hammer fell at the end of a prop auction in the remains of the 19th century Paris Opera House, a mechanical musical monkey forlornly claps its tiny cymbals together and the hands of time creak backwards. Slowly, gently, the opera house unfurls from the ground up taking us from dark, dingy and dead to light, lustrous and lively.

The saying in the blockbuster movie world that very dollar is up on screen equally applies to this new touring production of Phantom Of The Opera. Any lingering doubts about transferring a hellishly complicated muti-award winning show from the West End to UK theatres are blown out of the water by the sheer epic scale and detail of the staging. The set design is outstanding using every technical trick in the book. From the grotesque golden gargoyle like figures clinging around the stage, foreshadowing the monster beneath, to the smooth as silk transitions into an underground lake filled with candles. Add to that the intricate beauty of the costumes and the whole effect is extraordinary. The masquerade sequence is pure Technicolor awesomeness and I shudder to think what the wig bill is!

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic score and the lyrics haven’t aged a day in 35 years. Again and again the powerful soaring orchestration fills the auditorium lifting the terrific vocal performances to towering heights. Holly-Anne Hull as Christine has a set of pipes that could kick in heaven’s door and a make a hole in the roof. Likewise Killian Donnelly oozes menace and sympathy as the disfigured Phantom and obsessed cellar dweller genius who believes he owns Christine’s soul both musically and personally. There’s excellent support and comic relief from Saori Oda as the diva Carlotta, Greg Castiglioni as Ubaldo, Matt Harrop and Adam Linstead as Monsieurs Firman & Andre. Rhys Whitfield as Raoul, the object of the Phantom’s hatred and Christine’s lover, hits all the right square jawed notes too as he desperately tries to save her. I feel guilty about missing people out but the whole cast excel.

Slickly directed by Seth Sklar-Heyn with otherworldly choreography by Chrissie Cartwright - Phantom Of The Opera is still a must see show.

Simply stunning.

Curve: https://www.curveonline.co.uk/

Richard Perry: editor@westernparkgazette.co.uk

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Billionaire Boy by David Walliams, adapted, directed and lyrics by Neal Foster. Music by Jak Moore

Produced by The Birmingham Stage Company

At DeMontfort Hall 4 – 8th March 2020

Review by: Paul Towers, 04/03/20

"David Walliams' latest touring show"

Following on from his successful stage adaptations of Gangsta Granny, Awful Auntie and The Boy in The Dress David Walliams' latest touring show is The Billionaire Boy.

Joe (Matthew Gordon) is twelve years old and the son of a self made multi billionaire single father (Jason Furnival). Rather than the love and attention he craves his father showers him with money and material things. Desperate for a friend he transfers from a posh school where he was bullied for having the wrong accent to a comp where he is bullied for being rich. Life doesn't get any better.

The script is full of schoolboy toilet humour with a few gags especially for the grown ups with their teenagers

The set is, appropriately, made of stacks of loo rolls, the product that made Joe's father rich. It is a jigsaw of cupboards and cubby holes which serve as locations.

The cast of nine work very hard singing and dancing.

Billionaire Boy is at DeMontfort Hall until Sunday 8th March. Tickets are still available

DeMontfort Hall: http://www.demontforthall.co.uk/
 

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

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The MP, Aunty Mandy and Me By Rob Ward

A Made at Curve co-production with Emmerson & Ward

At Curve: 3-4 March 2020

Review by: Paul Towers, 03/03/20

‘This is a tour de force of acting’

For the third year running Rob Ward has been an integral part of DMU Pride. Previously he presented his award winning Gypsy Queen but this year he brings us a new Curve commissioned show, The MP, Aunty Mandy & Me, a darkly comic tale of a socially awkward gay boy stuck in a northern town backwater who is desperate for a loving relationship.

Dom thinks that being an Instagram Gay influencer is the be all and end all of his life but he struggles to get past the 100 likes for his posts. His social anxiety is under control, sort of, so long as he takes his medication. But sometimes he forgets and has an 'episode'. He tries, he really tries to meet guys. He goes to the gym but never gets picked up. His love of trains is the only real passion in his life. Until he meets the MP. He makes Dom feel good about himself and, if we are being honest, Dom allows himself to be groomed for the self worth he now feels, even if some of the things asked of him are not to his taste Of course being groomed is not a novelty for him. His druggy mother has also groomed him to follow in her footsteps into substance abuse calling her seemingly never ending supply of MDMA her Aunty Mandy.

Rob Ward has produced a very funny, thought provoking play about coercion and the things we are prepared to do for love, or at least what we perceive to be love. This is a tour de force of acting as Rob switches at alarming speed from character to character, male to female, drunk to stoned, all with many laugh out loud moments and sudden descents into pathos, all littered with innuendo and northern vernacular.

Direction by Clive Judd and a very apposite soundtrack designed by Iain Armstrong it all comes together to highlight some of the pitfalls of modern gay youth. This should be required viewing for all LGBT youngsters today

Curve: https://www.curveonline.co.uk/
 

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

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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