Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

16/01/2018

Dick Whittington at The London Palladium


Review by: Paul Towers, 11 January 2018
Dick Whittington by Alan McHugh with additional material by Julian Clary, Paul Zerdin and David McGillivray with original songs by Gary Hind
A Qdos Entertainment production
London Palladium – Sat 9th December 2017 – Sunday 14th January 2018

“an amazing stellar cast”

Finally, a Really Useful Group theatre that feels as though its refurb has actually been completed. This, the jewel in not only RUG’s crown but that of all of London’s theatreland, is lavishly decorated in the Matcham style as it was he that remodelled it in the early 1900’s. The reception areas are a luxurious welcome into the home of London variety throughout the years. As the building was originally built to house a circus the public areas do come across as a bit of a maze with some very odd features round sundry corners. However, every wall is covered with posters and playbills from the past illustrating the wide range of shows and acts that have appeared over the years.
I arrived about 30 minutes early to collect my ticket and was ushered through security and the ticket desk without pause.
The auditorium of The Palladium, familiar to so many of us from numerous TV appearances, is vast. 2,286 seats are spread over 3 levels and virtually every seat has an unimpeded view of the stage.
Dick Whittington is the second year pantomime has been back at the Palladium after a gap of 30 years.
To say that money has been spent on this production is like saying that Greenland is a little cool.
To start off there is an amazing stellar cast including Julian Clary, Elaine Paige, Paul Zerdin, Nigel Havers, Gary Wilmot, Charlie Stemp and Diversity. As if that is not enough the set is mind bogglingly extravagant with huge set pieces, animatronic rats, pyrotechnics galore, a send up of Titatnic and even a flying London bus for no other reason than they can! On top of this there are the costumes, acres of sequins, silver lame and feathers. And that’s only for one scene. Outdoing every outfit on the stage is the awesome Julian Clary whose costumes as The Spirit of The Bells changed every time he made an entrance and got more and more over the top on each change until he was almost filling the stage on his own. Not to be outdone, his co-star Elaine Paige as Queen Rat flashed a shapely leg in a glittering black ensemble as she swished around the stage in high dudgeon giving all and sundry evils and threatening to take over London. Charlie Stemp, fresh from his career making stint in Half A Sixpence, made a very likeable Dick. The main cast was bulked out with Dame Gary Wilmot as Sarah Fitzwarren, Paul Zerdin (and Sam) as Idle Jack and Nigel Havers as Captain Nigel, surplus to requirements most of the time but the butt of endless jokes.
Ashley Banjo’s Diversity provided most of the dancing required and a large ensemble filled the rest of the stage.
A friend of mine had been to see the show twice so we compared notes of the various bits of ‘business’ we had noticed and every single fluffed line, every missed cue, every dropped prop and every ad lib was very carefully and precisely scripted so as to wring every single laugh out of an outrageous script. Julian Clary had been given free reign to write his own lines and his brand of entendre (rarely doubled) was visible at every turn.
When it came to songs Elaine Paige was well served with a whole slew of parodied Andrew Lloyd Webber classics from her back catalogue, even if Clary cut her off sharply after just one line sometimes. Charlie Stemp was also honoured with a mash up of his signature song, Flash Bang Wallop from Half A Sixpence.
So, was this traditional pantomime for the kiddies? Not really although I am sure most of the smut would go over the heads of the average under 12’s In truth this is more a show for the grown-ups. On the matinee I visited the largely OAP members laughed their heads of before climbing back on their coaches to the provinces, Tena Lady’s a timely precaution.

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

04/01/2018

Silent Movie Night - Nosferatu


Review by: Paul Towers, 04 January 2018
Silent Movie Night - Nosferatu
Presented and curated by Paul Kousoulides
Upstairs @ The Western, 4 January 2018 and every first Thursday of the month

“Silent Movie Night at The Western.”

A new year and a new idea for Leicester’s only pub theatre. On the first Thursday of the month for the next six months they are showing classic silent movies. All of them (except the last one which is a modern classic) digitally restored and remastered with an orchestral soundtrack to enhance your enjoyment.
First off the rank was the classic German expressionist masterpiece, Nosferatu.
On release in 1922 (that makes it virtually 100 years old) it was a box office flop and when Bram Stoker’s widow took the producers to court for plagiarism they lost the case and were instructed to destroy all copies. Fortunately for posterity some prints survived. This copy has obviously been cobbled together from different prints, witness the variations in colour of the monochrome. However, with a lush orchestral score over it this is not a distraction.
The story is lifted almost wholesale from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, hence the court case. A na├»ve young man leaves his new wife behind when he goes to Transylvania on business. He sells a house to Count Orlok (Dracula) who ships himself over in a  coffin filled with the soil he was buried in where he sucks the blood of all and sundry. His spell is broken when the wife deliberately gives her blood to him and keeps him from his coffin after cock crow.
A substantial audience was very appreciative of the film and of Paul Kousoulides’ expert background to the film and genre.
The next Silent Movie Night is on Thursday 1st February when they will be showing The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, another German classic of the genre.
Future gems are Buster Keaton’s The General on 8th Marc, Chaplin’s Modern Times on 5th April, The Passion of Joan of Arc on 3rd May and, bringing us fully up to date, 2011’s The Artist on 7th June
David Bell, Upstairs at The Western’s artistic director, is currently open to suggestions for future collections of movies of all types. One idea is to have other silent movies but with a live piano/keyboard accompaniment. If that is something you could do, please email him via the website.
Another idea is perhaps for someone to suggest a theme for a night; maybe Mamma Mia for a birthday; maybe get your company to sponsor a movie night as a treat for their workers. David would love to hear any ideas you may have.

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

03/01/2018

Upstairs at The Western - the first year


A year ago Upstairs at The Western had a change of management. The old guard of Off The Fence moved on to other things and David Bell and his team stepped in to take over running the venue. I met up with David to see how he thought the first 12 months had gone and what his plans going forward are.

Paul Towers:            So, how’s your first year been? To start off artistically, how difficult has it been for you? Obviously there was a gap before you actually took over in which the previous owners would have

David Bell:              Yeah, so when we got told that we’ve taken over the theater in January of 2017, we were told after the end of October 2016, so we had two months basically to get ready for the spring 2017 season. Because Off The Fence knew they were leaving they hadn’t booked anything. So, we had a manic run around to try find touring companies at the last minute. Thankfully we inherited people like Jess Green for Find The Right Words,

But I think in our first season, the six months, January to June 17, I think we managed to get about 25 shows and by and large they weren’t too bad. I think artistically there were a couple in there that probably weren’t as good as we’d hoped they were going to be but on the whole we managed to attract quality shows from the off.

PT:                         I am someone who is here on a very regular basis and I thought you did amazingly well. I know that first season was quite heavy on spoken words and poetry. I guess that was because it was easy to book in at short notice.

DB:                         To get the high ranking jobs and stuff like Gratiano and The Unknown Soldier we had to pay really high guarantees which we didn’t meet. So that cost us money. I think our first season was a bit of a scramble, we didn’t really get to the printers with a good brochure because we didn’t have time. So we just had to get a pamphlet. It was just really getting used to running the business and all the behind the scene stuff, but I think, yeah, it’s got a lot easier. Autumn ‘17 has been a lot easier.

PT:                         The lineup of stuff that you’ve had this autumn, I think it’s been phenomenal. A very broad range. I don’t know whether it’s a deliberate thing, trying to cater for everybody or is it a question of working out what brings the punters in?

DB:                         No, I think the difference is, I mean, Off The Fence were a larger drama-based company and they are also a producing company that used to produce their own shows and toured with them. But our bid was all about turning Upstairs at The Western into a multi-genre arts venue for the West End of Leicester. So it’s a case of widening the genres, branching out more into music, comedy, a bit more poetry, film, those kind of things, but also increasing the volume. So the previous owners did about 50 shows a year and our business plan aims for about 150 shows a year. Because we are closed in July and August, that’s about 15 a month or 3 a week.

In the autumn 2017 season I think we hit about 50 shows. Some of those are workshops, comedy workshops, but around 40 to 50 shows over 4 months, that’s about 10 a month. Next season, January to June ‘18, we are looking at about 100 shows.

PT:                         Wow!

DB:                         So we’re widening the type of shows we’re doing. The type of thing we’ve gotten here is a lot broader than it has been before, but we are expanding it in what can be a crowded marketplaces. There is loads of comedy coming in. We’re coming back big time in the Leicester Comedy Festival next year.

It’s all part of our expansion and we have just got to go through the growing pains to kind of get there really. The change in the nature of the place is deliberate to make it multi-genre art, that sort of thing.

PT:                         Yeah, and I guess the fact that you don’t have to consider putting your own productions on makes it a little bit easier because it frees up a lot of time.

DB:                         It does, yeah. The closest we are coming to that is in the second part of our bid was about helping in the development of new artists and new companies. So somebody comes to us and says, I’ve got a play and I want to put it on the stage. We will help them as much as we can to develop and stage it. So we’ve got a writer who is putting a play on in February 2018. She’s got a script which she wrote herself and  she’s doing all the auditions here. We had a guy who wrote in and said I want to direct a play so we introduced the two to each other and they are getting on like a house on fire and they are now co-producing the show.

We will put it out for £5, we will label it as a work in progress. We had a really young company last year who did Voices of Reason.

PT:                         Oh yes, I liked that.

DB:                         And yeah, what they lacked in kind of artistic expertise, they really made for it in terms of energy.

PT:                         And enthusiasm.

DB:                         And enthusiasm and that just needs channelling over the years.

PT:                         I said in my review for that that the script needed a little bit of trimming, cutting the end off, but there was lots of very good elements within it that work very well. They just need a script editor, I think. But they make good use of the off-stage space.

DB:                         Yes, they did. It’s what we would call a safe space. There’s a big difference between doing something in your bedroom and getting on to a big stage which is really intimidating and Upstairs at The Western is like a stepping stone between the two, so it’s a nice safe space.
David and his team obviously have huge ambitions for Upstairs at The Western with a great  number of shows booked in for the Leicester Comedy Festival (http://comedy-festival.co.uk/events/). Full details of all future shows at this vibrant venue can be found at http://www.upstairsatthewestern.com/
Among the many innovations watch out for the monthly Silent Film Nights when old b/w silent movies are shown. The first is Nosferatu this Thursday 4th January. Another great novelty is the monthly Choir Night, the first on Wednesday 24th January. Full details of these and all shows are on the Upstairs at The Western website.

First published in Western Gazette

15/12/2017

Alfred's War


Review by: Paul Towers, 15 December 2017
Alfred’s War by Marilyn Reed
Upstairs @ The Western, Friday, 15 December 2017

“friend or foe? You decide.”

Alfred’s War is very much s till a work-in-progress and, as such, is not fully ready to be judged. However, while the staging, costumes and scenery are still absent it is fair to critique the overall story.
This story is based on real life events that occurred ten days before the liberation of Brussels in 1944 and were detailed in an oral testimony given in 1955.
A man, variously calling himself Alfred Adler or Philip Jansen is caught up in the final throes of the German occupation of Belgium.
Is he a collaborator with the Gestapo; or is he working with the Belgian Resistance; or maybe he is part of the Belgian Nationalists? Or maybe he is all or none of these things and just managing to survive Nazi ethnic cleansing the best he can.
The scene is set with some inventive projection of newsreel footage onto some of the hundreds of files used to investigate displaced persons after the war.
Alfred/Philip is being interrogated by the Allied forces and tells his story in flashback. Sometimes it seems he is almost caught out when the lies he has invented to protect himself unravel. Or are they even more protective deceptions. We are left largely to make our own minds up. Is he a friend or foe, traitor or facilitator? You decide.
Hopefully the finished production will tour in autumn 2018

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

Beauty and the Beast pantomime interviews


Beauty and The Beast at DeMontfort Hall 16th December to 6th January 2018
DeMontfort Hall is continuing its recently revived custom of an annual pantomime with a remarkable production of Beauty and The Beast, not to be confused with Disney’s upcoming live action film of the much loved animated version.
On a very chilly morning we assembled in the hall to meet some of the cast and get a sneak round the stage set. It has to said that the way that an enormous amount of scenery has been packed into the very limited room backstage is ingenious. We were lucky to be given a close up view of one of the spectacular scene changes, all of which happen in full view of the audience without a blackout. Incredibly inventive and effective.
Once we had caught our breath and taken cast pictures on the set we wandered into the Garden Suite where we met up with four cast members for a chat.
David Lonsdale plays Cedric, Belle’s father.
Is he good or bad?
Panto always conforms to goodies and baddies, he said. Belle’s father is a good, very avuncular, granddad type who messes up and causes all sorts of problems which result in Belle being held captive by the Beast.
Have you done many pantomimes?
I’ve done a few but I came to it late as I worked on Heartbeat for many years and we couldn’t do panto. We were too busy. Now I’ve done 8 or 9, I’ve played Dame a couple of times but I much prefer doing Fathers and Barons. Dame is way too much like hard work. It is so physical with all the costume changes.
And talking of Dames, I next spoke to renowned local Dame, Martin Ballard
You work for BBC Radio Leicester, don’t you?
Yes I have been there for 30 years, on an off.
Are you from Leicester?
I am originally from Castle Donnington, so Leicestershire born and bred.
You have done loads of pantomimes here, haven’t you?
Overall I have done 28 pantos, this is my 7th here. I was at Loughborough for 15 years when they didn’t do them in Leicester
Have you always been Dame?
No, I’ve done Dames, comics, barons, but mostly Dames
You enjoy doing the Dame?
Absolutely. This is a lovely show. I haven’t done it for a long time. It’s topical because of the movie coming out. It’s got something for everyone, the humour, the slapstick, much more than the Disney story. A very traditional pantomime.
Is it anything like the Disney version?
No, none of the songs. It wouldn’t be panto if we copied that. Panto is driven by the original fairy story. That’s the way it should be anyway. We are not doing the Disney show with slapstick, we are doing the fairytale.
We saw the scene changes just now.
That’s the wow factor, the lights and music, the transformation in full view. Credit has to be given to DeMontfort Hall for the effort they put in every year for this. It is not a traditional theatre and everything has to be created and put in, the lighting rig and scenery machinery; they have to build a theatre on the stage before the scenery goes in.
Next on my list of people to chat to was Richard McCourt.
You are one half of Dick ‘n’ Dom, children’s TV favourites
Just the one half, the other one is in hibernation for the winter.
You’ve been doing panto for quite a while
Quite a bit on my own in the early 2000’s and then me and Dom did a couple of years together and this is my third on my own again.
Are you still on TV?
Yeah but me and Dom mainly do live tours, we are at Edinburgh next year. We are on the live circuit more than on TV at the moment.
What sort of character do you play in panto?
Always this sort, Idle Jack, Wishee Washee, Buttons. This show is weird as it doesn’t have that sort of character like Buttons so I am playing the Dame’s son, Dick, the village idiot.
Is this your first time in Leicester?
Yes, first time in panto but I am from Sheffield and had friends in Leicester so I was up and down.
Finally I got to chat with local legend Sam Bailey
Are you happy to be back here for your second year running?
Third panto, second one here.
When you won X Factor 
Four years ago today!
…. did you ever think it was going to be anything more than a singing career?
I used the experience to open doors and add strings to my bow
Was it always an aspiration to get into acting and musicals?
Yes, I always wanted to do it. There are some people who do X Factor and leave it too late. Literally as soon as I came off the show I was ‘I wanna do this, I wanna do that’. Strike while the iron is hot.
What was it like doing Chicago? Being on the other side of the bars, so to speak?
Playing Momma Morten was great. I loved it. I can’t do the new tour because I am doing Fat Friends The Musical. I finish here and go straight into Fat Friends. I love this, I love Christmas. My kids can come and see me on Christmas Eve. My daughter is obsessed with Belle and is coming dressed up. But that is what panto is all about, it’s for the kids. I have always wanted to do it and now I have been given the opportunity, and n my home town! I can tuck my kids in bed every night and my eldest, 13, loves theatre so she comes along t see backstage.
So, a dream come true?
Absolutely!
There will be a full review in the Gazette shortly but, in the meantime, if you want your dreams to come true you can’t do better than getting tickets for Beauty and The Beast at DeMontfort Hall some time between now and January 6th
First published on Western Gazette


13/12/2017

George's Marvellous Medicine


Review by: Paul Towers, 13 December 2017
George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl, adapted by David Wood
A Made at Curve co-production with Rose Theatre, Kingston
Curve, 9 December to 14 January 2018

“bloody marvellous!”

As the dark rain of a miserable December turned to snow what better way to spend an evening than in the company of Roald Dahl’s bonkers world of childish lunacy. Curve’s annual treat for young and old.
George’s Marvellous Medicine is typical Dahl, gross, funny, rebellious and ideal fodder for children from 4 to 104.
George and his family live on a farm surrounded by chickens, pigs and cows. Their peaceful idyll is shattered by the arrival of  Grandma, George’s mother’s mother, a harridan of the first degree. She is selfish, demanding and ugly both inside and out. George daydreams about what it would be like if she were nice and resolves to make a magic potion to improve her temperament. However it goes wrong and she ends up 10 feet tall. One of the chickens sips some of the potion and starts laying huge eggs. This could be the making of the family. Suffice to say all does not go to plan and they end up back where they started but without annoying Grandma.
Directed by Julia Thomas this is a rumbustious production set in a tangle of  junk and props, everything an imaginative boy needs for a magical adventure.
Throw into the mix puppetry, remote control chickens and sundry illusions and you have 90 minutes of sheer escapism all done up with songs and dances.
Preston Nyman as George makes a great job of involving the audience, much to the delight of one 4 year old about 4 rows back! The small cast was fleshed out by Justin Wilman as George’s dad, Catherine Morris as his mum, Chandri Mistry as the chicken (I know, you have to see it to get it) and Lisa Howard as horrible Grandma.
Tonight had a very good percentage of under 15’s. So good to see them introduced to live theatre so early. The show runs right into the new year and is bloody marvellous for all the family.
First published on Western Gazette




















07/12/2017

Gussett


Review by: Paul Towers, 07 December 2017
Gusset by Elaine Pantling
A Laurie Lorry production
Upstairs @ The Western, 7-8 December 2017

“hilarious and thought provoking.”

Elaine Pantling’s one-woman theatre company, Laurie Lorry, brings one of her latest shows to Upstairs at The Western.
Pauline Potter is a ‘floater’ (and no lavatorial jokes from the back, thank you), she is called upon to fill in at the factory wherever she is needed. Pauline is a knicker stitcher, a gusset guru and very proud of it she is, too. Pauline’s gussets are her guiding light, her path to fulfilment. She has a pocket in her tabard that is home to her various gussets, each one a reminder of how she does and wants to live her life. By day she is a floater but by night she is a wannabe writer. She is taking evening classes.
As Pauline empties her tabard pouch of gussets she explains how each one triggers a thought. Sex, diets, PMT, alternative therapy charlatans and her ever patient husband. All are triggered by the various little fabric pieces of damp drip catchers tucked away in her knickers.
Elaine Pantling’s wry, poignant journey of a northern factory worker trapped in an unfulfilling life is both hilarious and thought provoking
Although tonight was sold out (with a queue waiting for return tickets) there are a very few seats left for Friday’s show. What a great way to liven up a damp and dreary winter’s evening in the company of a talented writer and performer.
Details of Elaine’s other shows and tours can be found at http://www.laurielorry.co.uk and watch out for her show Alice in Her Shoes back at Upstairs at The Western in the New Year

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