Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

18/09/2017

Uncle Armando


Review by: Paul Towers, 18 September 2017
Uncle Armando by The Same Faces
An Upstairs Comedy and The Same Faces presentation
Upstairs @ The Western, 18th September and monthly

“Tag Improv sketches.”

In 1988 a funny little game show called  Whose Line Is It Anyway moved from Radio 4 to Channel 4. It was the first improvisation show to make it onto British TV and spawned several others. Ostensibly a game show the format revolved around  a host who plucked subjects from the audience and asked panellists to create sketches on the spot.
Tom Young and his band of The Same Faces have reinvented the format for intimate theatre and livened it up by doing away with the host and allowing a rota of performers to jump in and outdo each other to take the narrative in a different direction.
The Same Faces is an improvisation group of Tom Young, Allan Smith, and Dave Gotheridge with a variety of guest improvisers and monologists. Tonight there 9 people onstage in all!
An Armundo (hence the title) is a device whereby a single word from the audience prompts the monologist to relate a humorous tale from his life which then becomes the inspiration for the rest of the troupe to improvise a series of sketches around that theme. The format is what is known as Tag Improv. Any member of the team can tag one or more of the performers if they feel their sketch is flagging or just if they feel they have something funnier to say.
In tonight’s show the monologist, or Armundo, was Jon Pearson, Jacamo model, comedian and self confessed giant.
Tom Young leads his troupe of improvisers in regular gigs in both Leicester and Northampton. Tom also runs improv workshops in both cities. Full details are on the group’s Facebook page and Twitter account. facebook.com/TheSameFaces and twitter.com/TheSameFaces
Uncle Armundo is back at Upstairs at The Western on Monday 16th October
 http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
First published on Western Gazette

13/09/2017

Peace Train - The Cat Stevens story


Review by: Paul Towers, 13 September 2017
Peace Train – The Cat Stevens Story by John Misto, directed by John Saunders and Naomi Coggan
A Spiritworks production starring Darren Coggan
DeMontfort Hall, Leicester 13 September 2017

“critically acclaimed”

Cat Stevens was born Steven Demetre Georgiou in 1948 in the heart of Soho above a café owned by his father, called The Moulin Rouge. Born to a Swedish mother and a Greek father he discovered an interest in music at an early age and took to composing songs in his bedroom and then performing them in the cafes and pubs of London.
For three years his success was building until he was struck down with tuberculosis. During his long recovery he had a spiritual epiphany and his musical tastes took a different turn. This did not go down well with his record label and he fought to be released from his contract. With his musical career soaring in 1976 he nearly drowned off the coast of Malibu and from then on his spirituality kicked in and he turned his back on music right up until the 90’s when he gradually started recording again. Although he has never regained the huge popularity of his early career he felt that he was finally able to combine his music with his faith.
Peace Train, the name of his 1971 hit which he reworked for Band Aid, is the story of his life with 23 songs, most of his hits and a few lesser known songs. These are interspersed with a narrative.
The performance I saw was grossly over-amplified and I came away with a thumping headache. While Darren Coggan’s singing voice is a very reasonable facsimile of the original his narration, in the style of an over-excited Australian kids TV presenter on too many E Numbers, was histrionic and over-acted. It was like Steve Irwin without the crocodiles and looking like John Bishop.
This show is ‘critically acclaimed’ and had 7 nights sold out at Sydney Opera House and is touring the UK for the rest of September, Details available at http://www.peacetraintheshow.com/
First published on Western Gazette

07/09/2017

The Conductor


Review by: Paul Towers, 07 September 2017
The Conductor, based on the novel by Sarah Quigley, adapted by Mark Wallington
A Raving Mask presentation with Deborah Wastell, Joseph Skelton and Daniel Wallington
Upstairs @ The Western, 7th & 8th September 2017

“educational and thought provoking.”
 
The Conductor is a seamless blend of fact and fiction charting the writing of Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony against the backdrop of the siege of Leningrad in 1941 as the Nazis surround the city and bomb, shell and starve it into submission as part of their assault on Russia.
Most of the cultural elite are evacuated early in the siege, but Dmitri Shostakovich, the most famous composer in Russia, stays on. At night he composes a new work, his 7th symphony.
After Shostakovich and his family are forced to evacuate, Karl Eliasberg, a shy conductor of the second-rate Radio Orchestra, and an assortment of musicians are left behind in Leningrad to face an unendurable winter and start rehearsing the finished score of Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony.
This talented cast of three bring the story to life against a background of the fledgling music. Daniel Wallington as Shostakovich sat at an electronic keyboard and produced the most amazing grand piano sound as he coaxed the symphony into life. Joseph Skelton as Karl Eliasberg conveys the horror of living amongst the rubble of Leningrad as he tries to maintain a semblance of culture to lift the spirits of the remaining residents. Deborah Wastell swaps clothes to convey the various women in the men’s lives.
I had no connection with Shostakovich’s music before this evening. In fact classical music in general is anathema to me, probably because I don’t understand the story behind the pieces. The Conductor, as well as telling the story of the creation of the symphony also explains the narrative of the music. I think I will appreciate this piece a little more now.
This is an educational and thought provoking story behind an iconic piece of classical music.
The Conductor is at Upstairs at The Western again on Friday 8th September

More details on twitter @TheConductorPla

http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
First published on Western Gazette and London Pub Blog

05/09/2017

Parade


Review by: Paul Towers, 04 September 2017
Parade by Jason Robert Brown
Leicester Amateur Operatic Society production
Curve – 4 – 9 September 2017

“a musical triumph.”

Looking back from the 21st century the last hundred years have produced some truly appalling travesties of justice and the case of Leo Frank was a low point even for the early 20th century.
In 1913, just 50years after the American Civil War, a Brooklyn born Jew called Leo Frank, married to local girl Lucille, is feeling increasingly alienated from the local townsfolk.
Working as a supervisor in a local factory, Leo is responsible for paying wages. Just as the Confederate Memorial parade is due to start a local 14 year old girl, Mary Phagan, comes for her pay. Later  that day her body is found in the basement of the factory.
The initial suspicion falls on Newt Lee, the black night watchman. But then Leo Frank is arrested. Feeling that they have strung up far too many blacks lately, the prosecutor, Hugh Dorsey, is pressured into making sure Leo is found guilty. To that end many witnesses are either blackmailed or bullied into making false statements against him and he is found guilty and sentenced to hang.
His wife, Lucille, takes it upon herself to persuade the Governor to commute the sentence to life imprisonment. Which he does eventually
Unfortunately some of the locals take the law into their own hands, break into the prison and kidnap Leo. After forcing him to confess to something he didn’t do they brutally lynch him.
Jason Robert Brown has managed to take a truly horrible crime and subsequent miscarriage of justice and turn it into a musical triumph.
As always the performers from LAOS excel themselves with the kind of singing voices worthy of any mainstream theatre company.
Especial mention must be made of Tom Mottram as Leo Frank. His ability to portray the Woody Allen-esque whining of the supervisor but then transform instantly in a fantasy sequence into a leering sexual predator is amazing.
Tim Stokes as Frankie Epps leads much of the action with great stage presence and a fine voice. Joshua Harding as Newt Lee has a wonderful deep voice full of soul while James Summers as Jim Conley adds a nice contemporary feel to his two stand out songs.
To add to the immediacy of the musical numbers there is a live band hidden behind the back cloth.
The staging is quite minimalist with a pair of stairs moving around the stage to provide vantage points, walls and stairs while furniture props are brought on and off as required by the cast.
On the face of  it this is not the stuff of musical theatre but it works
Parade is at Curve until 9th September

First published on Western Gazette

02/09/2017

Jestin' at The Western 2/9/17


Review by: Paul Towers, 02 September 2017
Jestin’ at The Western  
Dan Nicholas
Upstairs @ The Western, 2/9/17

“the new monthly stand-up comedy night”

Tonight was the inaugural night of Jestin’ in The Western, the new monthly stand-up comedy night. Running on the first Saturday of the month this is a night fronted by local hero Dan Nicholas as an opportunity for new and established acts to try out new material.
This edition was full to the brim with an eclectic mix of styles and, it has to be said, quality of material.
The evening started off with Dan Nicholas’ warm up of trademark off the wall comedy. A great way to gee an audience up.
First on the bill was Eric Rushton whose faux shambolic stories told in a surreal deadpan way worked very well. He appeared to relish gently provoking the audience and running with the results.
Next up was the self styled Magic Poetman, William Makesbeer. While his comedy poetry was quite humorous his musings in between didn’t always work.
To wind up the first half we had Lucy Thompson, a local lesbian with a sharp delivery and a nice line in self deprecating tales of her mixed heritage upbringing.
With a well needed break for refreshments Dan Nicholas took to the stage once more to kick start the second half of the bill.
First up was Steph Brown, an Irish woman with great comic timing.
Next was Bruce, the one dud of the evening. He came on stage with a rather nasty beard and wig as a disguise solely so he could recycle a very old joke about hiding from the DWP. His material limped on, mildly amusing until his finale, an awful rewritten version of Land Of Hope And Glory.
Fortunately the next act, the headliner of the evening, was George Rigden, an acerbic and quite aggressive performer like a cross between Joe Wilkinson and Nick Helm. However he got away with it by being funny, mostly.
Jestin’ at The Western is on every first Saturday of the month and serves up 3 hours of comedy for just £8. Bargain!
Also returning later this month is the renowned Upstairs at The Western comedy workshops run by Dan Nicholas starting on 24 September and culminating in a showcase performance on 5 November.
 Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/

First published on Western Gazette and Pub Theatres 

01/09/2017

The Game's Afoot


Review by: Paul Towers, 01 September 2017
The Game’s Afoot by Tom Taylor
Upstairs @ The Western, 1 September 2017

“the laughs come thick and fast.”

Tom Taylor is a very funny multi award winning comedian whose usual genre is silly musical comedy. This year he has branched out into what can only be described as spoof detective stories and is touring with a double bill of  The Game’s Afoot, Try The Fish and The Man With The Twisted Hip.
From the minute Charlie Montegue, narrator, amateur detective and all round silly ass walks on stage the laughs come thick and fast. With more groan inducing puns than an entire series of Bake Off, Taylor’s self penned monologues are peppered with enough characters to exhaust his limited repertoire of voices (his words) with often excruciating accents.
The first half is a send up of all those Agatha Christie country house murder mysteries as 1930’s Charlie is brought in the prevent a murder. And fails miserably.
The second half  is a parody of those European heist films of the 70’s as Charlie tries to work out who stole a diamond secreted in a piece of art.
This was the first show of Upstairs at The Western’s autumn season and kicked it off with a sell out performance.
The Game’s Afoot (etc) had a hugely successful Edinburgh Festival this year and is touring throughout September and October. Full details at www.tomedy.co.uk/charlie-montague

 Upstairs at The Western http://upstairsatthewestern.com/
First published on Western Gazette and PubTheatre Blog

31/08/2017

Lady Day


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

“a breathtaking performance”

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