Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen


Big Foot and tiny little heart strings

Review by: Paul Towers, 10 November 2017
Big Foot by Joseph Barnes-Philips
Produced by Black Theatre Live, Highrise Theatre & Stratford Circus Arts Centre, directed by Dominic Garfield
Upstairs @ The Western, 10 November 2017

“a tale of teenage angst and sudden maturity.”

Rayleigh lives in South London, the only child of separated Guyanese parents. Treading that awkward path from teen to man, Rayleigh is on the verge of falling in with the wrong crowd and ending up like his absent father when he meets Spice Girl, the woman of his dreams, and everything changes. Suddenly he has responsibilities and a child on the way.
Big Foot is written and performed by Joseph Barnes-Philips and is littered with autobiographical elements. There is an atmospheric soundtrack and clever lighting as each scene changes.
I love these one man/woman shows with multiple characters. I am in awe of the way they can switch from one to the other in an instant and convey a character with either an expression, a gesture or a simple accessory. Barnes-Philips has this talent in spades and has us instantly believing he is an old woman,  a gangsta, a teenager and a Spice Girl as he weaves his tale of teenage angst and sudden maturity.
Big Foot has been touring and future dates can be found on The script is available on Amazon

Upstairs at The Western
First reviewed in Western Gazette


The Secret Keeper

Review by: Paul Towers, 06 November 2017
The Secret Keeper by Angela Clerkin
A Clerkinworks & Ovalhouse presentation
Curve 6 – 7 November 2017

“Just because it is a fairy tale, don’t expect a happy ending.”

Every fairy tale worth its salt is a combination of morality, fantasy and horror. Angela Clerkin’s The Secret Keeper, not to be confused with Kate Morten’s book of the same name, has all those elements in a slyly satirical take on modern life, especially current surreal sexual revelations.
The Good Daughter stumbles upon the secret of making her father cast off the pall of gloom that hangs over him as he struggles to get over his brother’s death nine years ago. All she has to do is listen to his secrets and promise never to reveal them. This instantly cheers him up and he proclaims her to be a miracle worker. Very soon the townsfolk flock to her and unburden themselves, absolving their miseries. Sound familiar? Pseudo Catholicism in all its glory. One by one the Good Daughter is burdened with all their sordid secrets until one day the weight becomes too great and she blurts the whole lot out. Again, familiar ground if you follow Edward Snowdon’s leaking of US classified documents. Hypocritically those exposed go on the rampage and exact their revenge on the secret keeper’s indiscretion. As is always the case the guilty cast round for someone else to blame for their own peccadilloes.
A supremely talented cast of just 4 play 40 characters with visual invention, an imaginative soundtrack and original songs.
Angela Clerkin plays the Good Daughter while Niall Ashdown, Hazel Maycock and Anne Odeke fill in all the blanks with aplomb, swiftly changing character with barely a draped shawl or an apron.
Just because it is a fairy tale, don’t expect a happy ending.
The Secret Keeper is at Curve again tomorrow

Fiirst published on Western Gazette


Comedy Workshops Graduation Day 2017

Review by: Paul Towers, 05 November 2017
Graduation Day – Alex Hylton + support
Upstairs @ The Western, 5 November 2017

“an evening of new comedy.”

Upstairs at The Western has long been committed to supporting up and coming talent in comedy. Under the tutelage of local comedian Dan Nicholas the venue runs comedy workshops which culminate in a performance before a paying audience. While all levels of writers and performers are welcome it usually turns out to be aspiring comedians who sign up.
This year’s alumni of five proved to be talented enough to hold their own in their allotted stage spots.
Sarah Davis opened after Dan had warmed the audience up. Her confident manner delivered an hilarious stream of puns, mainly health related.
Next came Valter, a Portuguese/Spaniard who started off with the distinct disadvantage of English being his second language. However he used this to his advantage with tales of English confusion and Brexit bafflement.
Lisa Martin, pleasingly the second female on the course, had a very sure delivery and produced plenty of laughs.
Kevin Hudson, looking much like Terry Pratchett, was a self confessed grumpy old man and railed against all the things that us older people find perplexing, self service tills especially.
And talking of Terry Pratchett, the next act was billed as Death Itself (complete with flowing black robes) aka Gavin Pilchard, who had a very nice laid back delivery as he moaned about long working hours and the irritation of Mrs Death’s indecision.
To round off the evening we had Alex Hylton as the headline act. A Midlands based 22 yr old, Alex has a voice like ‘Marge Simpson in a blender’ (his words) and a very disarming self effacing style to his material as he apologises for not being more manly. Very charming and likeable. A great way to end an evening of new comedy.
The next comedy workshop course starts in January and culminates with a gig as part of the Leicester Comedy Festival 2018. Full details are on the Upstairs at The Western website.
 Upstairs at The Western
First published on Western Gazette
and PubTheatres


Jestin' at The Western November 2017

Review by: Paul Towers, 04 November 2017
Jestin’ at The Western – November 2017
Dan Nicholas hosts Tony Cowards, Alex Kealy, Bijan Barekat, Sean Morely, Danny Clives & Top Joe
Upstairs @ The Western, Saturday, 04 November 2017

“two hours of comedy for just £8”

Upstairs at The Western hosted its monthly comedy open mike night for November with Leicester’s very own Dan Nicholas as the regular compere with two headline acts and four open mike spots.
Sean Morely drew, some would say, the short straw by being allocated the first spot. Although Dan had warmed the audience up with his usual surreality, it is still difficult to be first on. Morely grabbed the experience by the throat and bravely started his spot from within the audience. It took us a few minutes to be drawn into his crazy world but he had a sure touch and played the audience well.
Next up was Bijan Barekat. His initial material trod the well worn path of the difficulties of being an Asian and travelling the world. Where he became original and quite off the wall was his take on children’s stories and how they could be updated with extreme political dogma.
The headliner for the end of the first half was Alex Kealy, a very personable posh boy with socialist political leanings.
After a quick break Dan Nicholas sprang from behind the curtains to introduce the next batch of funny men. Danny Clives had a very nice line in self deprecation, always a fertile field to mine for comedy.
Next up was Top Joe, someone I can only describe as a Welsh peculiarist. His Rob Brydon-esque ramblings jumped from subject to subject mangling his handling of English as a second language to great effect.
The final act and second headliner (remember this was all for just £8) was Tony Cowards, a master of the one-liner, Tim Vine’s slightly younger ‘brother’. The great thing about being a devotee of the one-liner is that if one doesn’t work then there are several more champing at the bit to tickle your funny bone. Coward’s material, almost completely original, hit much more than it missed.
Next month’s Jestin’ at The Western is on Saturday 2nd December.
 Upstairs at The Western

First published on Western Gazette
and Pub Theatres


42nd Street

Review by: Paul Towers, 1/11/2017
42nd Street by Michael Stewart & Mark Bramble
Music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London

“funny, musical and energetic.”

42nd Street, taken from the Warner Brothers’ film which in turn is based on the book by Bradford Ropes, is the ultimate backstage musical to end all backstage musicals.
The tenuous story is of an inexperienced hoofer, Betty Sawyer (here played by the incredibly talented Clare Halse), who gets to go on for the star, Dorothy Brock (surprisingly played by ex-pop star Sheen Easton), when she breaks her ankle. In the words of director Julian Marsh (Norman Bowman in this performance) she has to go out a girl and come back a star! And boy does she!
Although Sheena Easton is top billed as the ‘name’ it is Clare Halse who steals the show. This girl can sing, she can dance, she can tap faster than a machine gun! Her comic timing is spot on and she looks great as well.
As befits a West End show money has been spent on the production. There is more sparkle than an entire season of Strictly, more costume changes than a Kardashian photoshoot and a whole slew of standard, hum-along songs.
This show is topped and tailed with two amazing routines. The opening, as the curtain rises, of the entire chorus line tapping is awe inspiring. While the almost finale where a huge staircase slides forward and the dancers, clad in sparkly suits, tap their way down in formation is breath taking.
Along the way there is a great routine that is akin to the opening of the Muppet show, a large bank of rooms each containing a girl. As they  sing their lights go on and off in time to their voices. A tribute to the lighting engineer!
Another stand out visual moment is the routine where Dorothy Brock, in shadow behind a huge back cloth, shadow dances with Pat Denning, the squeeze she is cheating with behind sugar daddy Abner Dillon’s back.
On top of this there is a great moment in Keep Young and Beautiful when a large mirror comes down and we are treated to a Busby Berkley homage. Berkley, of course, was the film’s choreographer.
If you are a fan of big, bold, sparkly musicals (and who isn’t?) go see 42nd Street before it closes


The Leftovers

Review by: Paul Towers, 26 October 2017
The Leftovers by Nic Harvey and Rob Green
Sheep Soup Productions & Curve presentation
Curve 26 – 28th October 2017

“The Leftovers. I am unimpressed”

According to the promotional programme handed out The Leftovers ‘in the confines of a community recording studio, friends of the late Jodie gather to record .. something. What would she have wanted? What kind of music best represents her, honours her? The boundaries of artistic license and ‘appropriate’ responses to grief are tested, as The Leftovers search for their own roads towards moving on’.
What we got was a directionless text linking some original songs which, in another context, would have been noteworthy. The title, The Leftovers, is entirely appropriate. This is a collection of leftover songs strung together with a lacklustre script.
A play or musical should grab the audience’s attention and connect with  them within the first ten minutes. By the time the interval came round I still couldn’t have cared less about the characters or the story.
There is a line early on spoken by one of the actors about a song which says ‘the writer should know what it is trying to say’. I concur.
I felt like I was eavesdropping on a group of friends but I don’t know any of them. They are chatting in that shorthand that long time friends have which excludes strangers to a greater degree because you don’t know the back story. Throughout the narrative a certain section of the audience, probably friends and families, was laughing uproariously while the rest of us sat in silence, once again reinforcing the feeling that we were on the outside looking in and not understanding what was going on.
Right from the start we are expected to empathise with the loss of someone we don’t know. By the time we have been let into enough aspects of her character it is too late. Apathy has set in.
The actors’ voices are great. They can certainly sing. There is no doubt about that. And they can deliver lines. Ben Welch as Jim, the sound engineer is the strongest actor and singer but they all have very little to work with when they are not singing. It is such a waste of talent.
I saw their previous production, Mrs Green, in 2015 and that was infinitely better.
The Leftovers is at Curve until Saturday 28th October

First published on Western Gazette


Burning Books

Review by: Paul Towers, 25 October 2017
Burning Books by Jess Green
Directed by Julia Thomas
Curve 25 – 28 October 2017

“a savage indictment of the failure of our children by the current education system”

Sometimes the promotional material for a play does not do the production full justice. Such is the case with Jess Green’s Burning Books. On a fact sheet handed to all the audience members as they trouped into Curve’s pop-up performance space, RR2, there was loads of  background blurb about how the piece has morphed from some poetry into a music show and thence into a stage show. She garnered lots of response from the public after her poetry readings and those stories of people’s experiences within the education system have given birth to this show. It all seemed very worthy, dry and unexciting to my eyes.
Then the lights went down, the soundtrack (composed by Tasha Leggatt) came up and we were treated to a peek into the lives of 3 disillusioned teachers, by turns funny and achingly frustrating. This is a tale of four members of  a failing school in special measures and how they are thwareted at every turn by Government cut-backs and pen pushing money men as they try to instil a tiny bit of  motivation into classes of couldn’t-care-less kids from a sink estate. How they manage to cope, just, with the stresses and strains of trying desperately to keep their heads above water is a lesson in survival within a lackadaisical education system.
While Jess Green’s script is sharp and spot on (so my teacher friends tell me) it is the acting that brings the story into sharp relief.
Kat (Rebecca Newman) is the new First Teach student who tries to team up with union stalwart Janine (Erin Geraghty) to fight the forced conversion to an Academy. Scott (Conor Deane) is the PE teacher, all track suits and misogyny, and is as much use as a chocolate teapot and Mrs Sizzly (Mary Jo Randel), the school librarian with aspirations above her abilities and is blindly in love with Head Master Dom (Jasper Cook), never seen but omnipresent via the tannoy system..
This is a savage indictment of the failure of our children by the current education system
Burning Books is at Curve until Saturday 28th October as part of the Inside Out Festival
First published on Western Gazette