Donna Poynton

Review, Educating Rita, Theatr Clwyd By Donna Poynton

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Most will be aware of Educating Rita thanks to the multi award winning 1983 film starring Julie Walters and Michael Caine. I know this was my first introduction to the play and one which I was in awe of; the portrayal of these wonderfully different characters, the comedy, the literary irony and Rita’s yearning to change, to grow and to the be valued. Don’t we all feel like this at some point in our lives? Hence, Willy Russell’s Educating Rita will continue to be a success. At first, I wondered, why this play again? How can it be different now? And on the surface there weren’t any huge differences; no big scenic aplomb or special lighting effects but the issues and themes addressed are universal and perhaps particularly relevant in our current political climate; Frank despises the changes he sees in Rita once she’s been given an education; does he realise life can be much more enjoyable if you’re ignorant to it all?

Although the play is not strictly an autobiographical piece, it does draw on Russell’s own struggle to get into education having left school destined to work in a factory for the rest of his life. Like Rita, Russell worked in a hairdressing salon whilst achieving an O Level in English Literature at night school. Rita’s tutor Frank turns out to be a frustrated poet and dedicated drinker who, although initially unenthusiastic about taking on an Open University student, comes to grow extremely fond of Rita and realises how much they can teach each other.

I cannot praise Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson highly enough. I often feel for actors who take on such well-known, beloved characters who have already been portrayed by some of the nation’s most loved performers (in this case Julie Walters and Michael Caine). However, Tompkinson and Johnson slip effortlessly into the roles; it’s as if they’ve been doing it for years. Johnson is reprising her role from 2017 at Gala Durham and it’s as if she was born to play it. Her comic timing is spot on, her accent never falters, and she perfectly transforms slowly throughout; reminiscent of Pygmalion, her body language and tone of voice very subtly developing as Rita makes her transformation into an educated woman. Tompkinson’s portrayal of Frank is to be commended also. He plays out the character’s constantly changing emotions perfectly and, in conjunction, doesn’t overplay the ‘drunk’; as an audience we warm to him rather than taking a dislike to him for his love of liquor.

The set design is simple yet effective; the whole play set in Frank’s office at the university, filled with books, artwork and enough bottles of hidden alcohol to open a pub! The setting doesn’t change but Johnson does, and each costume change is dealt with, with ease (Rita has a lot of wonderful, of-the-era sweaters and dungarees!) Something else worth noting is the time between scene changes. There is an obvious effort to keep the action flowing and so we only ever see two full blackouts, one at the end of the first act and another at the end of the second act. This keeps us, as an audience, in the moment; time shifting implied by a drop in lighting, a costume change or delicate movement from window to desk.

Willy Russell really did write a hilarious, timeless piece of theatre in creating Educating Rita and Tompkinson and Johnson really have kept it alive, and with gusto! Educating Rita plays at Theatr Clwyd, Mold until Saturday June 1st, 2019 and goes on to play at several venues across the UK, finishing at the Darlington Hippodrome on Saturday August 17th, 2019.

Theatr Clwyd, Mold

May 20th-June 1st, 2019

Writer: Willy Russell

Director: Max Roberts

Designer: Patrick Connellan

Lighting Designer: Drummond Orr

Sound Designer: David Flynn

Cast includes Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson

Review Rain Man, The Classic Screen to Stage Theatre Company, Theatr Clwyd By Donna Poynton

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Rain Man is the inaugural production of The Classic Screen to Stage Theatre Company and follows a line of successful screen to stage productions from producer Bill Kenwright including A Few Good Men, The Shawshank Redemption and Twelve Angry Men. Previous performances have starred an array of critically acclaimed actors including Martin Shaw, Rob Lowe and Suranne Jones.

Most will know Rain Man as the Academy Award winning movie starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. Released in 1988, the film was directed by Barry Levinson and written by Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass. Morrow created the character of Raymond having met Kim Peek, who, although not autistic, was born with an encephalode (a large blister on the back of his head). Kim’s parents were told he should be in an institution, but they rejected this advice, and, by the age of 18 months, Kim could memorise any book read to him only once. He attained all high school requirements by age fourteen and had an encyclopedic knowledge in a range of subjects, from History to Classical Music. However, Kim couldn’t walk until he was four and had difficulty with tasks such as washing and dressing.

Rain Man tells the story of self-centered car salesman Charlie Babbitt (portrayed wonderfully by Chris Fountain who is the perfect mix of arrogant yet somehow likeable). Charlie one day receives the news that his estranged father has passed away and left him nothing but an old car and a collection of rose bushes! Charlie later learns his father’s three-million-dollar estate has been left to a mystery beneficiary. After a flurry of bad language, sarcasm and rage, he unearths that the beneficiary is, in fact, a brother he never knew he had; autistic savant Raymond.

The role of Raymond was due to be played by Paul Nicholls (EastEnders, Hustle, City Central). Unfortunately, the week before the production hit the venue, it was advertised that, due to illness, Mr. Nicholls would be unable to play the role at Theatr Clwyd. A disappointment to fans I’m sure, however, Adam Lilley, who stepped into the role, most certainly doesn’t disappoint. Lilley’s portrayal of Raymond is faultless throughout; he perfectly captures the essence of the reality of high functioning autism and his delivery of Raymond’s savant skills provide for many moments of humour contrasting with the sadness of his situation. Not only does he deliver the dialogue with fantastic timing and ease, his physical portrayal is so seemingly effortless and consistent.

The set design is simple yet effective and makes great use of varying effects including back drops, flying, trucks and easy to move furniture and props. During scene changes we hear a fitting 80s soundtrack played on high volume; perhaps purposeful, it creates with the audience a sense of hypersensitive hearing often associated with autism.  The 80s theme continues throughout with fabulous costumes harking back to the era and plenty of neon lights and references to TV shows and celebrities of the decade.

Whether or not you are aware of the movie, this production cannot be recommended highly enough, mainly for its two male leads for whom it is wholly worth booking tickets. The cast and the production are superb, but it is their stand out performances as two unlikely brothers which set the stage, and the story, alight. Rain Man plays at Theatr Clwyd, Mold until Saturday March 2nd, 2019 and goes on to play at several venues across the UK, finishing in Weston-Super-Mare between April 15th and April 20th, 2019.

Theatr Clwyd, Mold

February 25th-March 2nd, 2019

Writer: Dan Gordon

Director: Jonathan O’Boyle

Designer: Morgan Large

Lighting Designer: Jack Weir

Sound Designer: Dan Samson

Cast includes Chris Fountain, Elizabeth Carter, Mairi Barclay, Adam Lilley, Dominic Taylor, Joe Sellman Leava, Hannah Barker, Joshua Diffley

Unfortunately, due to illness, Paul Nicholls is unable to perform in Rain Man at Theatr Clwyd from February 25th to March 2nd, 2019. The role of Raymond Babbitt is played by Adam Lilley.

Review The Lady Vanishes,The Classic Thriller Theatre Company by Donna Poynton.

Bill Kenwright’s Agatha Christie Company previously travelled the UK with original stage plays of some of the author’s greatest works including The Hollow, And Then There Were None and Murder on the Nile. The company put on a major new production each year for ten years running, each beginning at the Theatre Royal in Windsor before embarking on national tours.  Now, under the banner of The Classic Thriller Theatre Company, this stellar cast present a fast-paced, fantastically fun thriller based on the 1938 film directed by none other than Alfred Hitchcock.

Socialite Iris (wonderfully portrayed by Lorna Fitzgerald) is travelling home from continental Europe to London to marry an aristocrat, seemingly not for love, but for the title it brings. Before she climbs aboard, she receives a blow to the head but is helped onto the train by a friendly, elderly lady by the name of Miss Froy. Later that day it appears that Miss Froy has promptly vanished, yet all of Iris’ travelling companions deny ever having seen the woman. Panic ensues and with the help of a young, and rather handsome, musicologist, Iris is determined to solve the mystery of her lost friend.

To an almost sold out auditorium, the curtain goes up to reveal a platform at the train station. The impressive set, lighting and sound create the perfect atmosphere, transporting us to that platform; we can see the steam, hear the engines and watch the passengers and staff bustling about. The image is also a powerful one with Swastika banners prominently hanging from the rafters and a Nazi officer patrolling the action. The story is based just before the onset of World War II and throughout the play there are numerous references to the political situation, often made humorous by English cricket enthusiasts Charters and Caldicott (Robert Duncan and Ben Nealon respectively, both providing light-relief with great comic timing and comradery).

Most of the play is set on the train itself; another feat of wonderful set design. The compartments swing on from both wings and the action is pinpointed by the opening and closing of the sliding doors. The dining and luggage cars are simply represented with tables and chairs, holdalls and suitcases and, very successfully, there is no pretence that this is ‘theatre’; the cast themselves pushing the pieces on and off, frequently not in black out.

With a star-studded cast, superb set, lighting and costume design and a fun-filled, dynamic plot this production is one not to miss, especially if you’re a fan of the good old whodunnit! The Lady Vanishes is touring the UK until the end of July 2019.

Theatr Clwyd, Mold

February 4th-9th 2019

Written By: Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder

Adapted By: Antony Lampard

Director: Roy Marsden

Designer: Morgan Large

Lighting Designer: Charlie Morgan Jones

Sound Designer: Dan Samson

Choreographer: Chris Cuming

Fight Director: Richard Leggett

Dialect Coach: Helen Ashton

Cast includes: Juliet Mills, Maxwell Caulfield, Lorna Fitzgerald, Matt Barber, Robert Duncan, Philip Lowrie, Ben Nealon, Elizabeth Payne, Mark Carlisle, Joe Reisig, Natalie Law, James Boswell, Cara Ballingall

Review Dick Whittington: The Puuurfect Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto Theatr Clwyd by Donna Poynton

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Theatr Clwyd, Mold have long held the baton in North Wales for the ‘cult’ panto and Dick Whittington: The Puuurfect Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto is certainly no exception. Suddenly, panto got cool!

Upon entering the auditorium, we are greeted with a partly open stage where it becomes clear that the band will be on view throughout the show. However, once the action begins, we see that the cast, are in fact, also the band; Tommy the cat goes from cartwheeling around after rats to playing the drums and Alice Fitzwarren is one moment seen swooning after Dick Whittington and the next rocking out on electric guitar! The small cast of ten are constantly on stage, unless they’re darting off for a quick costume change!

 

The costumes are fabulous; well thought out and often traditional but with hints of punk! King Rhydian the Rat’s costume reminds us of rock musician Adam Ant, and his minion rats, Scratch and Sniff, don large green wigs and wear tartan! Special mention must go to Sarah the Cook’s delightful Dame costumes which always provide a giggle upon entrance!

 

The writing offers the usual ‘oh no he isn’t’, ‘oh, yes he is’ type interactions as well as plenty of boos, hisses and an audience soaking! The most memorable gag, well deserving of a mention, is one in which Wally Fitzwarren is attempting to prepare his crew (Tommy the Cat, Dick, Alice, Harriet and Sarah the Cook) for their ship’s voyage. What ensues is a concoction of great physical comedy involving mops and a simple yet very effective ‘copy everything I say’ skit! Superb timing and snippets of the cast simply enjoying themselves as themselves with more underlying adult humor than your average panto! Also refreshing is the use of the Welsh language, heard plentifully throughout the production as the plot is brought from London to Mold, allowing the audience to feel more engaged with the action.

This production includes a stellar cast with phenomenal vocals, wonderful musicianship and a brilliant repertoire of songs including Bat (Rat) out of Hell, Nutbush City Limits, I’m Yours and In the Navy! It’s impossible to single out any cast member as all are truly fantastic in their own right. It’s always a tonic to witness a production which doesn’t need celebrity names to sell out and be a huge success!

The production runs until the 19th of January at Theatr Clwyd.

Theatr Clwyd, Mold

November 23rd 2018-January 19th 2019

Writer: Chris Patterson

Writer in Residence: Alex Murdoch (supported by Gladstone’s Library)

Director: Zoë Waterman

Assistant Director: Francesca Goodridge

Casting: Kay Magson CDG

Design: Adrian Gee

Musical Director: Tayo Akinbode

Choreographer: Will Tuckett

Technical: Mark Howland, Matthew Williams, Alec Reece, Edward Salt, Cassey Driver

Cast includes: Royce Cronin, Toby Falla, Phylip Harries, Daniel Lloyd, Alice McKenna, Peter Mooney, Lynwen Haf Roberts, Emmy Stonelake, Luke Thornton, Anna Westlake

Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes (inc. interval)

 

Review Uncle Vanya, Theatr Clwyd by Donna Poynton

Uncle Vanya was first published in 1897 and had its premiere in Moscow in 1899, performed by the Moscow Art Theatre under the direction of Konstantin Stanislavski.

The play focuses on the visit of an elderly professor and his young wife Elena to the rural estate which supports their city dwelling lifestyle. Two friends, Vanya-the brother of the professor’s late first wife and the controller of the estate and Astrov-the local doctor, both end up falling for the charms of Elena. Sonya, the professor’s daughter by his first wife, is hopelessly in love with the doctor but her feelings are unmatched. Tempers flare and drama ensues as the professor announces his plans to sell the estate allowing Vanya to spiral into a madness offering tormented bawling and even a gunfight!

This new production written by Peter Gill and directed by Tamara Harvey of Chekhov’s doom-tinged comedy is set in the round, allowing for the feeling of immersion as an audience member, particularly during each characters’ soliloquy. We feel we are let in on the action, surrounding the players; close emotionally as well as physically. Each scene cleverly switches from outside to in and we are treated to some glorious pieces of silent acting as the characters themselves subtly manoeuvre the set to allow transitions (for example we hear claps of thunder and rainfall and a handful of actors swiftly grab chairs and rugs to ‘save them from getting wet’). The design of the piece, in this way, is very simple and yet we could look so much further into its meaning. Throughout the entire production there is an overhanging tree which could have been placed simply to remind us where we are. Could it, on the other hand, be symbolic of the overhanging, inevitable destruction in the piece?

The destruction of man and oneself is reflected in the frequent discussions of the desolation of the Earth’s forests. We cannot fail to spot the implications that humankind may not be KIND at all and that the dissatisfaction in our lives comes not only from ones own failings but from the failings of others to encourage success and happiness. We see love in all forms; love for family (as much as we may often speak ill of them or even wish then ill!), the love of nature, love of home, romantic love and even love unrequited but it appears that love brings with it sadness, frustration, sorrow and even utter despair!

Despite this, the play provides many moments of humour-mainly gleaned from the excellent characterisation of the title character by Jamie Ballard who portrays Vanya with just the right amount of comedy and tragic poise. This production has been cast superbly but special mention must also go to Rosie Sheehy as Sonya who plays the innocence and the pain of unreturned love beautifully, to Shanaya Rafaat as Elena who we are able to empathise with despite her somewhat ignorant demeanour and Oliver Dimsdale as Astrov who is both physically and mentally handsome-the stage often brought to life with each appearance.

This production of Uncle Vanya allows the stunning properties of Chekhov’s text to be fully appreciated as part of an up to date design. Despite it keeping its original 1890s setting we are able to relate the themes of the piece to our modern lives.

Review Kaiser Chiefs ‘Stay Together’ Tour Venue Cymru by Donna Poynton

Kaiser Chiefs ‘Stay Together’ Tour

Over the last few years the North Wales music scene has turned a massive corner with acts such as James Morrison at Rhyl Pavillion. The Shires and Bellowhead at Venue Cymru, Little Mix, Lionel Richie, and Elton John gracing the stage at Parc Eirias . And last night the Kaiser Chiefs kicked off the first leg of their UK tour at the Venue Cymru Arena in Llandudno.

The 2,500 capacity venue was sold out but with plenty of space to dance! The support acts warmed up the crowd suitably and just before 9pm we were treated to a large neon sign donned with a bright arrow pointing to the stage and the words ‘Tonite-Kaiser Chiefs’. With what seemed to be some kind of salute to 1940s-60s America the sign intermittently flickered and buzzed in the fifteen minutes before the band’s arrival-a suitable tease!

The show opened with the band on a small stage in the style of an American high school prom-the ones we are used to seeing in the movies (think Grease!) complete with silver tinsel curtain, a disco ball and lead vocalist Ricky Wilson in a green blazer throwing his best Elvis shapes!

Soon after, and in a little murmur of confusion, the band were behind the tinsel curtain as it suddenly fell, revealing the real size of the arena stage, a huge neon ‘K’ and ‘C’ and a plethora of lights and smoke machines. The perfect secret reveal!

The band, from Leeds, who originally formed in 2000, played all of their greatest hits including ‘I Predict a Riot’ (which shot them to stardom in 2005 reaching number 9 in the UK Singles Chart), ‘Ruby’ (which topped the charts in 2007), ‘Modern Way’ and ‘Everyday I Love You Less and Less’ along with some new stuff including the catchy ‘Hole in my Soul’ and ‘Parachute’.

Ricky Wilson is a brilliant showman with incredible energy and a voice with stunning control despite scaling scaffolding and jumping through the crowds, transforming most female fans into screaming teenagers as they stumbled to get closer!

The guys deserve every success on their latest tour and they’ve certainly started as they mean to go on in this little seaside town! They go on to perform in Bournemouth on Friday and then throughout the UK over February and March, including a huge show at the O2 in London.
Venue Cymru Arena, Llandudno
Wednesday February 22nd 2017 7pm
Supported by Howl Sounds and Spring King

Review Sunny Afternoon, Venue Cymru by Donna Poynton

Sunny Afternoon charts the rise of 1960s British rock band, The Kinks and if you don’t already adore their incredible back catalogue, then you will after seeing this hit musical.

Upon entering the auditorium we see an open stage, able to look upon the band warming up and the simple, yet extremely effective set which, throughout, allows the stage to be transformed from a teenager’s bedroom in a Muswell Hill flat to the rock ‘n’ roll stage at Madison Square Gardens, New York.

The costumes are wonderfully reflective of the time and are a nostalgic time travel back to the fashions of the era. In fact, one of the stand out musical numbers ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ sees Dave Davies donning a sharp suit and a feather boa whilst the rest of the band perform a dance routine with shop mannequins-utterly good fun!

The band’s story lends itself perfectly to its musical adaptation; a rags to riches tale with plenty of love, heartache, fame, fortune and even a few punch ups! But this is more than your average jukebox musical with every piece of music beautifully intertwined within the narrative including a stunning acappella rendition of ‘Days’ and a show stopping version of ‘Sunny Afternoon’ which combines a hark back to England’s 1966 World Cup victory (and could easily have been the finale!)

The production includes a stellar cast who not only provide various reincarnations of the story’s colourful characters but who also play a number of musical instruments throughout the piece (kudos to Andrew Gallo as Mick Avory for his immense drum solo!) Special mention must also go to Ryan O’Donnell as Ray Davies and Mark Newnham as his brother Dave-both flawless performances.

“Will they still be playing it in 30 years time?” asks lead singer Ray Davies, talking of his self penned title song. Well, it’s been over 50 years and I’m now evermore convinced that this ground breaking music will live on for a lot longer yet!

Venue Cymru, Llandudno

February 14th-18th 2017

Authors: Ray Davies music and lyrics, Joe Penhall book, based on an original story by Ray Davies

Director: Edward Hall

Design: Miriam Buether set and costume, Rick Fisher lighting, Matt McKenzie for Autograph sound

Musical Supervisor : Elliott Ware

Choreographer: Adam Cooper

Technical: Tom Nickson production manager, David Curl company stage manager, Deborah Andrews costume supervisor, Carole Hancock at Hum Studio wigs, Robyn Hardy, Hannah Sharp props supervisors, Suzanne Crowley, Gilly Poole casting for Hampstead and West End, Natalie Gallacher for Pippa Ailion casting for West End

Cast includes: Victoria Anderson, Nathanael Campbell, Tomm Coles, Deryn Edwards, Andrew Gallo, Richard Hurst, Sophie-Leigh Griffin, Mark Newnham, Ryan O’Donnell, Garmon Rhys, Joseph Richardson, Robert Took, Michael Warburton, Libby Watts, Lucy Wilkerson, Lisa Wright

Producers: Sonia Friedman Productions with Tulchin Bartner Productions, Greg Ripley Duggan for Hampstead Theatre Productions, Tanya Link Productions, Just for Laughs Theatricals/Glass Half Full Productions, Rupert Gavin

Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes (with a 15 minute interval)