Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen



Review by: Paul Towers, 16 May 2018
Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge
A Soho Theatre & Dry White production directed by Vicky Jones and performed by Maddie Rice
Curve 16 – 19 May 2018

“laugh, cry and be shocked all within minutes"

This is the stage show based on the BBC series which in itself  was born of the Edinburgh Festival show by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Fleabag (that is the nearest we get to an actual name) takes us careering through her life as she copes with the death of her best friend, a chaotic sex/love life and a failing business. Add into the mix the untimely death of Hillary, the sole link she still has with her dead best friend, and you have some idea of the mess her life is in. Hillary, by the way, is a guinea pig (it is way too complicated to explain!)
Fleabag unburdens herself  to us, a stand in for her BFF, and drags us through her chaotic series of one-night stands, social anxiety  and disastrous job interviews.
All this tumbles out unfiltered, outrageously, graphically filthy and hilariously inappropriate.
As played by Maddie Rice, Fleabag instantly draws you into her world, unsavoury as it is. With just a single chair on a raised dais, Rice creates this extraordinary place where we laugh, cry and are shocked all within minutes. A nice batch of half a dozen voice-overs fill in the gaps as Fleabag lurches from one crisis to another.
This show is huge fun so long as you have a broad mind.
Catch this hilarious show at Curve until Saturday 19th May


Love from a stranger

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 fiancĂ©e 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
First published on Western Gazette


The Crucible

Review by: Paul Towers, 03 May 2018
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
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 DeMontfort 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
First published on Western Gazette


The Little Mermaid

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.
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

First published on Western Gazette


Kiss of the Spiderwoman

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

“Outstanding performances by both Bennett and Barnett.”

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

The Grinning Man

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

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

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


Drag Queen Bingo

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

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

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

Upstairs at The Western