Friday, 26 September 2014

Promotional video. Derby Theatre. The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.

Promotion video for The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at Derby Theatre by Jim Cartwright. Showing Friday 31st October to Sat 22nd November 2014. Directed by Sarah Brigham, designed by Dawn Allsopp and Musical Direction by George Dyer.


Tracy Brabin: Mari
Rebecca Brierley: Little Voice
Kevin McGowan: Ray Say
Sue Vincent: Sadie
Tom Meredith: Billy
Ged McKenna: Mr Boo

Professional Endorsements for my research, reviews and writing.

►“Philip has been a guest on my Sunday Morning Show on Nottingham Hospitals Radio and turned out to be not only very knowledgeable on the subject of theatre but an incredibly nice guy. So much so that I'm pleased to say that I always look out for Phil when I am out and about in my role as a theatre reviewer, just for a good chat and to compare opinions." Kev Castle

►“Phil has a highly skilled, articulate style; methodical and well-researched in his approach. Phil's writing technique is adaptable across a broad spectrum of publications. Having worked with Phil on numerous occasions at NottinghamPlayhouse, Phil has always met my expectations and never failed to deliver on commissioned pieces of work. I would encourage any Marketing/Communications team in an Arts venue to use Phil Lowe as a freelance writer/reviewer.” Jo McLeish. The Media Room.

►“Hi Phil, thanks so much for your review of Rhapsody, Magic of Queen. It is a really comprehensive, interesting and well written review, letter perfect on names etc. We wish other people took as much trouble and did as much research to get it all right. A BIG thank you from us and we hope that our paths get to cross another time.” Sarah and David Clarke – Rhapsody management.

►"As one of Sardines magazine's top journalists, Phil Lowe contributes regular well-received articles ranging from celebrity cover stories to specially complied features such as our recent First World War Centenary special. In the magazine publishing industry, professionalism, creativity and efficiency are of paramount importance - thankfully Phil has all three in abundance."

Paul Johnson. Editor in Chief.

►"Phil, through his many roles in profiling and supporting the arts, is a fantastic and much valued contact for us at Derby Theatre. He engages with, invests in, all strands of our work through conducting interviews and writing previews, blogs and reviews. He is also an active participant and audience member - his experiences from which also feed into the positive profile he provides us with. When conducting interviews with actors, directors, writers etc. he is always thoroughly professional, prepared and always extremely courteous to his interviewees. Thank you, Phil for being an immense support and ambassador for Derby Theatre ad the arts in the region."

Heidi McKenzie (Press and Marketing Officer, Derby Theatre)

►"It's been great to have Phil Lowe join us as part of the Big Issue UK arts reviewing team. His writing is knowledgeable and thorough and I appreciate his pro-active approach particularly when a quick turn around is required for a tight deadline." Vicky Carroll. The Big Issue.

Phil Lowe is a freelance creative and theatre writer. Contact Phil at

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Antigone at Derby Theatre review.

“No man can be fully known, in soul and spirit and mind until he has been seen versed in rule and law giving” So said the tragedian Sophocles in his play Antigone. Playwright Roy Williams, inspired by the story, gives us a contemporary version set in Thebes; a dark underworld ruled by gang lord Creo. Creo is played with a cool menace and some scary humour by Mark Monero and his character is a force to be reckoned with. His rules have no soul or fairness of spirit and his laws are absolute – disrespect me and you die. The language of this thrilling play is very direct, of the street, dangerous and at times poetic. Roy Williams has done a brilliant job of bringing this classic tale bang up to date for a modern audience. The audience atmosphere in the theatre throughout is tangible. It seems at times that one hardly dare breath as the story unfolds. It sucks you in.

All conflict is there; Creo's son Eamon, dares to tell his father that listening to the people is a smart move if he wants to stay in power and is expelled from the 'fam' which eventually leads to his tragic death with his lover Antigone. Eamon (Gamba Cole) is superb in this production; all aspects of his portrayal of this Romeo - like character ring true; the vulnerable teenager; the troubled lover of Antigone (Tig); the maturing young man desperate to be loved by his intensely difficult parents.

Modern day audiences will also recognise the Mother- Son relationship between Creo's wife Eunice (Doreene Blackstock) and Eamon as she tries to tell him to stop connecting with the 'inbred' Tig and he back chats her whilst promising not too. A lovely powerful performance by Blackstock, at once caring and yet with an element of danger about her character's personality, born of a hard upbringing herself in Old Thebes.

Tig (Savannah Gordon – Liburd) niece of Creo is very credible throughout as a strong woman out for revenge against Creo for killing her brother Orrin and leaving him uncovered on the street to rot as a warning to others that a similar fate might befall them. Gordon – Liburd particularly shines in the cellar scene where she rails defiantly at fate and the Gods through the CCTV camera trained on her and magnified to electrifying effect on the back wall. Her scene with Eamon before their tragic deaths is a master class of acting where much is said within the silences.

As a counter balance to Tig's angst and anger we have the partially calming presence of Esme, sister of Tig played by Freida Thiel in a superbly understated performance in the siblings' emotional tug of war. Esme becomes the cathartic embodiment of kindness and unexpected forgiveness and generosity that we see at each end of the ninety-two minute theatrical piece.

There is humour throughout the play as we recognise the displays of power struggles unfolding and actor Oliver Wilson puts in a 'blinding' darkly comical performance as old gangster/soothsayer Tyrese who once again tries to tell Creo to have some humanity in acceding to allow the dead to be buried. “... they will move against you, every single one of them. Are you going to throw them all in a dark hole? You might as well throw yourself, you and your own stupid self reproach. This bad bwoi act can only last so far. Believe me I know!”

The whole ensemble of Pilot Theatre's production at Derby Theatre work hard to create a thoroughly engaging world of treachery and danger. Director Marcus Romer's stylish work on this is exemplary as is their trademark use of multi-media within the production. This theatrical work achieved through Derby Theatre, Pilot Theatre and Theatre Royal Stratford East is a brilliant example of exciting and electrifying theatre truly connecting with a modern day audience.

Antigone plays at DerbyTheatre until October 4th and tours until Spring 2015.

Photos copyright Robert Day

Review originally published by The Big Issue 24th September 2014

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Curve. The Magic of Queen by Rhapsody

To a packed audience at Curve, the Queen tribute band, Rhapsody, demonstrated that in the business of Rock and Roll tribute bands they are indeed – the business! They rock this venue brilliantly with their two hour show – The Magic of Queen.

The group have a new performer as Freddie Mercury in the charismatic form of Yvan Silva and he gets the camp, the swagger, the posing, the mood and the showman cheek of Freddie absolutely spot on. As for the athletic voice – wow! He has the eager audience begging for more after each song and their two sets generously allow the audience to join in with some of Queen's famous songs.

Considering that most of the audience are in their fifties or sixties, with even an old dear waving her arms about joyfully in unbridled octogenarian joy, almost everyone are up on their feet clapping and dancing for all they are worth. They don't need telling twice. The Queen hits come thick and fast and are performed and played to perfection. Among the highlights of the evening are 'Bicycle Race' 'Fat Bottomed Girls' 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' 'Flash's Theme' 'I Want To Break Free' a beautifully sung 'Is This The World We Created' 'Killer Queen' 'Seven Seas Of Rhye' 'Hammer To Fall' Mercury and Bowie's 1981 hit 'Under Pressure' and the gentle 'Love Of My Life'

There is a terrifically accomplished guitar solo from Jonny Sennett (lead and acoustic guitar and vocals) as Brian May and energetic and skilled drumming and percussion from Paul Lennox as Roger Taylor. As fifth Queen member, later in the group's original history, we have the keyboard and synth talents of Jason Mercer as Spike Edney. Matt Sparkes superbly plays the John Deacon role on bass guitar. All the young musicians are professional music graduates and are passionate about bringing Queen's magic to the stage. Rather than a steady stream of songs both musical sets have an organic feel to them which adds to the excitement of the rock entertainment.

The show has some great lighting to enhance the songs and visually Rhapsody look great with costumes to match those of the original band.

It is rare that the huge 1975 hit song 'Bohemian Rhapsody' is played in full by a tribute band but Rhapsody stun the audience with a fantastic live (no backing tracks) rendition of the full thing with great harmonies. Throughout this highly energetic show Yvan Silva as Mercury impresses the audience with his brilliant vocals and portrayal. Just when we think the show is coming to a close we get a new performer on the stage.

This is Amy Fuller. Amy is a former graduate of the Royal College of Music in Cardiff and totally wows the audience as she joins Yvan in singing the operatic song 'Barcelona!'. The notions of 'Who Wants To Live Forever?' and 'The Show Must Go On' are at the fore front of each and every onlooker tonight as they relive their youth and revel in the showmanship. Nobody wants to leave. Rhapsody totally nails the music, the style and raw energy of the original Queen and there are no proverbial grumpy fathers shouting upstairs to “turn that racket down!” A perfect evening's entertainment.

Photos by kind permission of  David Clarke

Original review posted on 19th September 2014

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Nottingham Playhouse: Time and The Conways review

Quite often in a theatre review the set, the lighting and the sound get the briefest of mentions in roughly the fourth paragraph down. It is almost as if, amongst the acting talent, they only had a marginal existence. Not so in this review. The set of 'Time and The Conways' at Nottingham Playhouse is one of the best and most inventive of sets I have ever seen and enhanced beyond measure by top quality lighting and sound.

The set for 'Time and The Conways' is that of a side room in the aristocratic household of the Conway family initially in 1919. To the fore are a variety of chairs and a large lamp on a stand with a medium sized chandelier hovering mid stage. A party is taking place off stage. The characters are all having a jolly time dressing up for a game of charades. Through these games we get a glimpse into the relationships. As the first act unfolds the set comes into its own. The space where a wall might be is like a veil of diluted memories, shimmering with ghosts of the past as they appear and disappear; the recently dead Mr Conway floats on and off, phantom soldiers stare into the void and an other worldly waltz floats by. The whole of the space where these things take place feels and looks like another semi solid spectral dimension associated with memories. The set designer is Madeleine Girling, winner of the Lord Williams Memorial prize for design in 2012 and the winner of the Linbury Prize for Stage Design 2013 for her speculative design work and model of 'Time and The Conways' in collaboration with Nottingham Playhouse.

The wonderfully atmospheric lighting is designed and produced by Mark Jonathan -especially good at the end of each act as we see time shifting back and forth. It is due to the talent of sound designer Drew Baumohl that we sincerely believe that there is a party going on side stage, unobtrusive but very evident and really gives the feeling that there is a world hell bent on having fun in the main house. The musical director is Stefan Bednarczyk.

Director Fiona Buffini, in her first directorial role at Nottingham Playhouse, makes J.B Priestley's brilliant play shine, diminish, sparkle and glow with her tight and fast moving directorial control. Throughout there is an almost tangible feeling of an atmosphere of another age. The whole of her ten strong, terrific cast, plus supernumeraries, have total commitment to getting the two historical periods spot on and capture well the fine nuances of the ageing personalties of this crumbling and disparate family and their difficult relationships with each other. It is Priestley's theatrical genius that allows us to see them throughout two decades of British history and to revisit the earlier post World War One period again for a second viewing.

Louise Jameson as Mrs Conway portrays her flawed character to perfection, from the fun loving matriarch of 1919 to the embittered woman in denial of her flaws and the consequences of her actions to the family unit. The theme for the play asks 'how strong are family ties?' It may also ask 'how strongly are the women valued in this story?' My answer would be – not very much. Even from the viewpoint of their own sex there is constant resentment and belittlement of relationships and artistic talent. Priestley's strength is in his subtle creation of these characters and his understanding of their complex psychologies.

Scott Turnbull turns his character, the shy and awkward Ernest Beevers from sympathetic in the first act to downright bitter and menacing in the second in a brilliantly understated performance and Rosie Jones shines as the eternally optimistic but ultimately tragic Carol Conway.

Pascale Burgess is totally believable as Madge the dedicated school teacher who finds herself despairing of her family and willing to pay the price of cutting herself off forever.

The whole cast present a fluid mix of very truthful human beings and work well within the abstract nature of the set. Despite the serious nature of this tragic story Priestly cleverly weaves in plenty of laughs that are enjoyed by the most appreciative Nottingham Playhouse audience. For high quality regional theatre I cannot recommend this gripping and thought provoking production highly enough.

Time and The Conways runs at Nottingham Playhouse from 12th - 27th September 2014

Photos: Copyright. Robert Day

Review originally written for The Public Reviews 17th September 2014

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Derby Theatre promo video. Inspirational!

Just take five minutes and watch this inspirational video for Derby Theatre. This is a modern forward thinking regional theatre that really engages with the community and promotes theatre and learning like no other.

I am so proud to come from a city that has such a wonderful inclusive theatre at its heart and to have been given opportunities to celebrate its successes through my reviews and interviews and chances to be able to observe professional rehearsals.

Phil Lowe

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Barnum at Curve review


Phineas Taylor Barnum – the greatest showman on earth! What a statement! A claim like no other! That may be wise cracking humbug, and there may well be a 'Sucker Born Ev'ry Minute', but darn it, that fella Brian Conley as PT Barnum is certainly up there with the greatest show folk and boy what a show! There is a lovely warm chemistry from Conley with the audience and he handles all the great physical demands and vocal demands of the show with a hard earned cheeky ease and humour. The tension in the audience is palpable as he attempts to walk the high wire!

Like a previous Barnum (Michael Crawford) Conley has that wonderful ability to engage you wholesale in the emotional roller-coaster of his character with each utterly joyful and sometimes tearful note. His performance is electric and he is superbly supported by the whole talented ensemble and especially by his stage wife Chairy Barnum played by Linzi Hateley, stalwart of many a West End show. Hateley brings out all the grounded love for her husband PT Barnum and her depiction of her beautifully sung songs feel genuinely heartfelt.

Actress and singer Kimberly Blake throws a romantic Swedish spanner into PT Barnum's world with her seductive talents as 'Swedish Nightingale' Jenny Lind singing Love Makes Such Fools of Us All. The brilliant staging as she rises to the roof of the stage on a swing has her literally ending her song on powerful 'high' note.

Landi Oshinowo makes 160 year old Joice Heth one of funniest parts of the show with her mad rendition of 'Thank God I'm Old' and Landi's later talents as Blues Singer warmly imbue the musical tone perfectly in the more poignant parts of Barnum.

General Tom Thumb – only twenty-five inches tall – played by Mikey Jay -Heath flings himself into the optimistic song 'Bigger Isn't Better' with great gusto and his scene with Jumbo the huge elephant has the audience in stitches.

This is a very slick production with each of the all singing, all dancing, circus skilled cast putting in 200%. The live music (Musical Director Ian Townsend) is spot on acoustically and instrumentally and each musical number gets huge applause from the very appreciative audience.

Bang from the outset we are bedazzled by the cast playing amongst the audience and bamboozled with Conley's baloney and all sorts of circus trickery and hokum pokum. The wonderful stage set is lit like a versatile Victorian gas lit theatre with all the colours of the spectrum thrown in for free. Well maybe not for free. A few worthwhile dollars may need to spent on a ticket or two but like Barnum's American Museum I can envisage people heading for the egress and queuing round the block to see it again and again.

This exuberant production of Barnum, adapted from the original 2013 Chichester Festival Theatre Cameron Mackintosh production is utterly breath-taking acrobatically, musically, visually and fizzing with theatrical energy.

The whole concept of Barnum is that the audience get swept along wholesale on a huge musical and spectacular wave of unashamed enthusiasm and emotion and this show, beginning its tour at Leicester Curve, far from disappoints. In fact it excels beyond measure. The multi talented ensemble are a force of energy that could light up the whole of Leicester one golden brick at a time!

Barnum plays at Curve until 13th September and tours throughout the UK until August 2015.

Review originally published 11th Sept 2013 by

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Play rehearsal by Skype with Emma Brown

I don't know why I didn't latch on to the benefits of communicating by Skype before but I recently created an account for myself and Emma and I had our first Skype based rehearsal today.

Emma currently lives in Holland and I live in Nottingham in England so our regular rehearsals for 'Greetings from the Trenches' need to be actualised somehow. The Skype system turned out to be brilliant. With good web links the aural and visual communication were as clear as if we were sitting in the same room. Plus it is free and a great way to rehearse. Shame I couldn't make her a cup of tea online though and Emma, if the interruptive telesales woman selling Italian olive oil and sausages calls again please give her my number. Her sixty-two euro deal sounds a bargain.

We managed to go through the last twelve pages of script that have been written recently and in the practicing of reading aloud we agreed that two of her concerns about certain scenes do actually work theatrically. There may be a few other small things that need rephrasing or tweaking still plus considerations over songs and music. All in good time.

Rehearsal by Skype
Otherwise, Emma said that she thought the play was 'gorgeous' and would be a pleasure to do. I was thrilled to hear that good news and look forward to further rehearsals and what we can achieve from the piece destined for its premiere in early December at the Jakobus Theatre in Karlsruhe, Germany.

Poster for 'Greetings From The Trenches' designed by Phil Lowe

Saturday, 6 September 2014

My one act play 'Greetings from the Trenches' completed

A couple of weeks ago I had eight pages of text out of a possible twenty completed and a synopsis and an ending in the bag. I wanted the piece to be just over an hour with no interval.

In order to complete the rest I went through all my research notes that I had unhelpfully filed in several notebooks and scraps of paper. To get a bigger picture of how the play would look I got a large sheet of paper about three foot by four foot and roughly marked it out with a good amount of squares. Each square counted as one page. This meant I could instantly fill in the first eight squares with rough plot notes. As I progressed I circled the squares where I believed there was a change in the dramatic journey. I don't know if this common practice as I just went on instinct and wanted a visual resource to work from. Plus, it is good to see you are actually getting somewhere in the writing.

So, up to page eight the script established the characters on stage and spoke of them and their relationships with a slight edge of mystery and quirkiness. Pages nine and ten continue luxuriously in letters about the two men's love of meat and then we get a supernatural event where Frank is compelled to write his famous poem - The Two Butchers. The tone changes and we start to delve into notions of exchange not just of letters but of creative ideas and Frank dreaming about famous people, historically and contemporarily to them in the 1920s, offering him and Hans creative advice in a dream cafĂ©. By page twelve Hans has written about his rescue of a drowning dog and he includes a poem in German about a trench dog called Wolf. All the German language translations were done by my German friend Thorsten Feldman. My co- star Emma Brown has been kind enough to offer some advice on presenting various aspects of dramatic text mirroring the way of a musical composer. In particular she suggested talking about the ideas of The Two Butchers poem ie 'anti war - creation vs destruction' rather than trying to write Frank's fictional famous poem itself. All the poems in the piece are written by me other than Arthur Rimbaud's poetic work - Sensation.

Three more poems are included in the next three pages including a key poem Am Durlacher Tor written by Hans after falling from the tram. He sees this event as a near death experience in peace time and hopes it is not premonition. Am Durlacher Tor is spoken creatively both in English and German by Frank and his daughter.

Frank writes back with the first of two confidential letters about his feelings of melancholia and possible suicidal thoughts including the poem Falling In Melancholia.

Pages sixteen and seventeen give us a comical insight into what turns out to be Hans' obsession with the Karlsruhe tram system and its history. I have tried to write this to be shared between Frank and his daughter and read with amusement and I guess enjoyment at some cheery news from Hans without them encouraging his obsession too much.

By page eighteen we start to really understand how these two former combatants are finding their creative feet with ideas of inspiring themselves in their writing of poetry and in developing ideas.

In the case of the German Hans he imagines cabinets of curiosity - the Wunder Kammer - as his motivator and (at a much later date) I introduced a song into the following pages sung by Frank. I have called it 'If I had a Door'. This is based on a question I was asked at the entrance interview by professor John Newling. He actually gave me the idea of a brick and asked me, in a creative sense, what I would do with it to create something artistic or thought provoking. As there are several times during the play that Frank hears whispered requests to 'Open The Doors' I have chosen a door as the motivator.

I made a short video of the tune to demonstrate what it should sound like. And to be sung better too! I had a cold and didn't want to freak out the neighbours!

This song was only introduced after I thought I had finished the play and then I got the tune in my head and developed the lyrics over a couple of days to the point where I felt they conveyed what I wanted to convey. That being the creative doors of his mind being utterly inspired and his letting in all these influences.

If I had a door: final written draft
There is another piece of piano music I have called The Missing (visited in a previous blog post) and I have decided to keep it just the piano with no lyrics and it may get extended.

For the remainder of the play we hear that Hans is getting inspired and healed by new anti war poetry and books like All Quiet On The Western Front and the poetry of Gerrit Engelke. Frank and Winifred share good news about the new baby Madeleine and Hans gets new work in the city library. Frank writes to Hans with a new confession - the true reason why his daughter is called Madeleine and Hans writes back. Emma Brown sings Sensation by Arthur Rimbaud at the piano in connection with the Madeleine back story. Is that the end? No, but I suggest you get out the hankies because things get decidedly weird in the last two pages and there is a huge surprise for the audience in the last few seconds of the play.

For a blogpost about the first read through click HERE

Antigone interview at Derby Theatre.

Interview with Marcus Romer and two members of the Antigone cast

On Tuesday 2nd of September I had the pleasure of interviewing Marcus Romer the director of Pilot Theatre's forthcoming production of Antigone. This is a new adaptation for our times by award winning writer Roy Williams and opens at Derby Theatre on the 19th September until 4th October.

Roy Williams

Antigone is produced by Theatre Royal Stratford East, Pilot Theatre and Derby Theatre and looks to be a highlight of their current season. Playwright Roy Williams has taken Sophocles play and placed it in a contemporary setting bringing Thebes into the 21st Century re-enforcing this dark tale's relevance and vitality.

Derby Theatre are also hosting a writing Master Class with Roy Williams on Wednesday 24th September and Pilot Theatre and their directorial team are offering a Pilot Theatre Master Class exploring the way they harness emergent technologies in this forthcoming production of Antigone. This will take place Saturday 4th October at Derby Theatre.


Joining me in the interview were Marc Monero (Creon) and Doreene Blackstock as (Creon's wife Eunice) and Heidi McKenzie of Derby Theatre. I had just had the good fortune to sit in on one of their exciting rehearsals.

Marcus Romer

Marcus was keen to promote the story of Antigone as a timeless story about loyalty, universal truths and the often dark side of human nature and human frailties. He also said that it is also about atrocious acts that are committed at the time of war – the heads on spikes – situations that warn people/ the enemy of the utter danger of betraying those in power. Antigone's brother is killed and Creon refuses to let the body be moved from the place where he has fallen – in the street – and Antigone defies king Creon by taking away the body and burying it. His reaction is to bury the woman Antigone alive as a public punishment for defying his laws.

Doreene Blackstock

I asked actors Mark Monero (Creon) and Doreene Blackstock (Eunice) if there was any time during the play that we see a softer side of Creo (as he is known in this adaptation) through their portrayal as husband and wife. They laughed and quickly conceded that there wasn't. He even casts out his own son who tries to make his Dad aware that the people are turning against him.

During the interview we shared some personal stories of difficult issues within family units, stubborn parents mainly and concluded that the themes of the play are timeless. There was also an agreement that the audiences should recognise these situations as things we experience through the news today and sometimes directly. This play is a precursor to plays about warring factions and families such as Romeo and Juliet and the often tragic results of their quarrelling.


Mark Monero

After recently reviewing a brilliant production of Spring Awakening by Headlong Theatre Company that used multi-media extensively as a story telling tool, I was keen to hear about the use of multi-media in this play. Marcus explained that the 'Gods' in the play are theatrically established by being 'all seeing' surveillance cameras in the street and the use of mobile phone videos are utilised as a device to show the memories of Creon as he reflects back upon his life of mismanaged earthly power and corruption and regrets.

Finally, I asked about how the play would work in the classical Greek sense of a catharsis at the end. Marcus smiled a secretive smile and agreed that there IS a catharsis at the end after all the theatrical demands of the story BUT the audience will have to wait and find out what it is!

Check out Pilot's website for more details on the rehearsals

Antigone will be touring through nationally Autumn 2014 and playing at Theatre Royal Stratford East Spring 2015.

Photo images copyright Robert Day.