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Review Cottonfingers, National Theatre Wales by Harriet Hopkins

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Cotton Fingers ticks a lot of the boxes you might expect it to, coming from Trezise; it’s gritty, honest, funny, poetic (the line “a dusty mushroom of fear growing inside my belly” is still circling my head), and the story feels real and raw – which it should. It’s the story of a 19 year old girl from born, brought up and living in Belfast when a quickie with her boyfriend finds her pregnant…and desperate not to be.

The backdrop (set design by Carl Davies) is basic but has impact; a brick wall, reflective floor and good lighting helps turn a row of plastic seats into a sofa, an aeroplane, the waiting room at a surgery, the GPs office, the bed Aoife shares with Cillian that sets the whole story in motion.

This simplicity carries through the story, too, as Amy Molloy gives us Aoife’s story straight up, no frills or overblown theatrics.

The back and fore between now and the past – snippets of Aoife’s childhood, of last Christmas with her mammy, and of what she thought she saw and knew about her deceased aunt Roisin – add flesh to Aoife’s life on a Belfast estate.

There were times when I felt like I wanted more – higher highs and lower lows, but the sometimes understated way this story unfolds is testament to life; things happen, and though they are dramatic and life-altering for that time, or for that individual, they barely ripple for other people.

Molloy’s performance is pretty raw at times, and my mascara was a mess by the time it was over. But I’d laughed too. A lot. (And not just at the sheep jokes.)

I can’t help but wonder what difference it makes to tell Aoife’s story in Cardiff. In Belfast, Derry-Londonderry and Dublin. Is the audience more relaxed outside of Ireland? Is there a tension in the air when an Irish audience sits down to watch a one-woman show about abortion?

Cotton Fingers leaves us with the message that the freedom to choose remains non existent for the women of Northern Ireland.

Aoife leaves with hope in her heart.

Cotton Fingers is on at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff until Saturday 8th June. If you miss it, you’ll need to hop over to Edinburgh to catch it at Summerhall, as part of the Fringe.

Review: Romeo a Juliet – Ballet Cymru, The Riverfront, Newport by Jack Hill

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Infused with that distinctly Welsh edge that sets this company apart from others, the opening night for Ballet Cymru’s 2019 tour of Romeo a Juliet was a breath-taking spectacle of love, loss, power and pain. Featuring choreography from Darius James OBE and Amy Doughty, alongside Prokofiev’s classic score, a number of new dancers to the company (and to Wales) joined the more experienced faces that will be familiar to followers of Ballet Cymru. This performance demonstrated the real depth of talent that the company attracts, nurtures, and advances.

In her premiere professional performance, dancer Danila Marzili embodied Juliet with infectious passion and grace, effectively conveying the playful and childlike elements of the character as well as the inimitable pain and heartbreak leading to her death. In her opening scene, Marzili and Krystal Lowe (portraying Juliet’s friend, her confidante, rather than her nurse) expressed such a tangible affinity with one another that, immediately, I was transported directly from Newport into Juliet’s chambers. The scene ends, along with Juliet’s childhood, as she is introduced to her arranged fiancé, Paris, danced energetically by Joshua Feist in his own premiere performance with Ballet Cymru.

Opposite Marzili as Juliet, Romeo was performed by Andrea Maria Battaggia. Battaggia is a skilful dancer who returned to Ballet Cymru this year from Ballet Ireland. Having portrayed the role in 2013, this performance demonstrated the reasons behind this reprisal in 2019. His strength and passion deliver the character’s impulsiveness, tenderness, and emotion with expert flair.

Two real stand-out performances for me were two characters that are usually side-lined as secondary in the story of Romeo and Juliet. Alex Hallas and Beth Meadway, portraying Lord and Lady Capulet, conveyed strength, coldness, wealth, and power through their bodies in such a way that every time they stepped on the stage, they owned it. The costumes adorning these two characters were highly effective at complementing their status. Meadway’s dramatic poise and striking elegance as Lady Capulet was phenomenal; only to be given more depth by the implied affection between her and Tybalt (performed adeptly by Robbie Moorcroft) and her subsequent breaking down into anguish and distress at his death. This performance makes it vastly clear that these dancers are also capable actors, with every performer fully embodying and embracing their roles on the stage.

Perhaps it’s cliché to mention, but I am unable to write a review of Romeo a Juliet without referencing the balcony scene. Expertly choreographed by James and Doughty, and skilfully danced by Battaggia and Marzili to express curiosity and the passion, this famous and relatable interaction proved hugely popular with the very diverse audience present in the theatre. The setting of this scene took my breath away; the projection of a grandiose window and the stage lighting to define the setting accompanied a simple yet effective podium to demarcate the balcony. For my daily work, I spend a lot of my professional time at the headquarters of Ballet Cymru in Rogerstone, Newport. From the first sighting of this balcony while the company were in early rehearsals, I had a real desire to go full-Romeo with, “but soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” but alas, my acting days were short-lived and I struggle to keep a straight face anymore!

Image credit Sian Trenberth

Minimalistic sets are indicative of the work of Ballet Cymru. Predominantly on the stage were moveable sheets of hanging chains which conveyed elements of wealth, grandeur, and battle. Designed by Georg Meyer-Wiel, this feature was highly effective in delineating space, serving as backgrounds for projection, and expressing the well-known building blocks of the plot of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Meyer-Wiel also designed the dancers’ costumes, with some real stand out pieces (I couldn’t decide which I preferred: the powerful black costumes of Lord and Lady Capulet, or Friar Lawrence and his entourage dressed in leather). One small criticism, however, is that I feel Paris’ green- jacketed costume was too similar in colour to that of the Montagues, and perhaps would have been more prominent if it reflected those of the senior Capulets.

Every piece of work produced by Ballet Cymru that I have seen has had intrinsically Welsh notes running through. Led by Artistic Director and proud Newport local Darius James OBE, it would be surprising to see a show from this company that didn’t include at least a few nods to Welsh culture and heritage! Romeo a Juliet did not disappoint: the title itself, a nod to the Welsh language; the projection of underneath a Newport flyover during one of the fight scenes, open to interpretation but definitely Newport; the incorporation of traditional Welsh clog dancing in time with Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights/Montagues & Capulets… Admittedly, I wasn’t sure what to expect of clog dancing mashed up with ballet (and neither were my parents, who were visiting from across the border), but when the dancers were clogging in reasonably good time with the music – masked in hoods that covered their whole faces – Lord and Lady Capulet entered, performing in a more classical ballet style befitting of their characters. The strength demonstrated by the dancers – particularly Robbie Moorcroft (Tybalt) – whilst clogging was palpable. It is this kind of flair that sets Darius James and Ballet Cymru as a real formidable force in Wales, because this scene worked. It was memorable; it was powerful; it was Welsh. And it worked.

Ballet Cymru, Artistic Director, Darius James OBE
Image credit Sian Trenberth

An integrally important responsibility of Ballet Cymru, and many other arts organisations around Wales, is to improve diverse representation within their audiences and share their art form with people who may never have entered a theatre, never mind seeing a ballet. Ballet Cymru’s Duets programme, which seeks “to support people to access dance, regardless of background, finances, race, belief, ability, and gender/orientation”, invited a number of its scholars (participants) from Moorland Primary School in Splott, Cardiff to perform the curtain-raiser at both tour dates in Newport.

Students from Moorland Primary School, Splott

Aptly named Romeo and Duets, the young people danced with skill (and to rapturous applause!) to Karl Jenkins’ Palladio, as performed by Escala. To complement this, complimentary tickets for the show and coach travel back to Cardiff were made available for the young people and members of their families. As a male adult beginner of ballet myself (I’m still aching from my second ever class as I write this!), it was refreshing to see how many boys were involved in this curtain-raiser.

It is always stimulating to see audience members experience something for the first time; four people sat on my row had never seen a ballet before, and were supporting their children in the Duets curtain-raiser. Ballet Cymru’s diverse audience, particularly when on home turf in Newport, creates a fresh and responsive feel amongst the audience which in turn connects them to the ballet they are watching. A real audience favourite was the ever flamboyant, provocative, and playful Mercutio (portrayed perfectly by Miguel Fernandes); a real excitement built up in the auditorium when he graced the stage with his presence, and almost tangible grief (at least on my row!) when Tybalt took his life at the end of Act II.

Ballet Cymru’s 2019 tour of Romeo a Juliet will continue across the UK throughout June and into July. In addition to this, in partnership with Wales Arts International, the company will be touring three cities in China throughout September 2019. Clearly, the sky is the limit for this dynamic, engaging, and passionate company and I’m excited, as ever, to see what Ballet Cymru has planned next!

Review: My Bright Shadow by Patrick Jones by Sian Thomas

Though I do adore both writing and reading poetry, I admit to having not previously heard of nor read any work by Patrick Jones. That being said, being presented the opportunity to discover him, I took it quickly. Not knowing a poet wouldn’t stop me from learning of them – besides, the process is always enjoyable. Poetry in itself is enjoyable. I’m always excited to read more, and I’m glad I did.
After reading through the whole anthology, I definitely decided on some favourites! Namely: Plume Angel, The Smell of Sundays, Wrapped in the Arms of Ghosts, Lovesung, The Presence of Absence, Mothering, and When are all in my favourites, for a bunch of different reasons.
Plume Angel was the first one to show Patrick Jones’ use of white space, which is a technique in poetry I both utilise (often) and really love to see. It makes the poem much more interesting, when your eyes are darting all over a page rather than just going in one expected direction. I loved the feel of this poem – it was very gentle, from the get-go. The first stanza was my favourite one, but my favourite line was, “tiny talismans / crashed to / earth / from an icarused flight”, solely due to the image of falling people and falling feathers. There, despite the softness, was also a great sadness to it (which is understandable, based on how the book itself and all the poems were born from a son’s experience of a mother with leukaemia). In a similar vein, Wrapped in the Arms of Ghosts also has this feeling with peppered in lines that I find really satisfying. For example, “clinging to sepia stained memories / bleeding frames and flickering effigies / hearing voices from forgotten melodies / is yesterday to be our only legacy” I found to be a lovely line, with a lot of emotion threaded inside and around it – especially considering the sounds that comes from reading or speaking them, which further created an positive impression and reaction from me.
Throughout each of the poems I found that drew me in was a consistent and understandable melancholy. The feeling was crafted really well, and also waded in and out with other things, too. Regret, wanting to go back, feeling the pressure of time and how we should be cherishing the seconds we have (which I do love, as a theme, it has a tendency to humble me and very quickly). The poetry was impressive, with really nice flow and images, although seeing the white space was definitely my favourite thing to take note of.
Lastly, Lovesung was one of my favourite poems, because it opened up a discussion I’ve been having within myself a lot lately. It came for my questioning if poetry and writing is an escape, and if it is – if it works? It came head-first towards my own habit of reading and writing to escape the endless refresh of bad news on Twitter, and the constant background noise of the world running all too fast away from me. And I really liked it, because it almost felt like being seen, and being coyly nodded at in a “I do this too and it’s nice and we maybe probably won’t tell anyone” kind of way. I loved it.
I’m giving the book three stars because I found some of the poems harder to untangle than others. I know full well this is a subjective area, full of people with subjective thoughts, but though these poems were well written and used really lovely language, some of them (for example, The Presence of Absence) did give me trouble in trying to decipher what – in that moment – was happening. I could understand the general sadness and regret leaking out of the poems, but other lines were more puzzling than expected. Which, having said this, could be seen as either good or bad by anyone else – but for me it did disrupt my enjoyment of treasuring the past and dwelling on actions and the present. Because of the grief hanging off some of the poems, I did find it a bit difficult to fully engage, however, this doesn’t take away from my admiration of this collection being published at all, when each pieces is so deeply, deeply personal. That’s worth respecting.
I’m glad I got a chance to read this work. I do love poetry and reading it is always an experience to be had. I had fun, and enjoyed what I saw. I would read it again.

Sian Thomas

Review Yvette, Urielle Klein-Mekongo by Tanica Psalmist

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Yvette is a unique and emotionally compelling autobiography; written and performed by the multi-disciplinary artist Urielle Klein-Mekongo. The entire production embarks on an emotional journey themed around insecurity, naivety, peer-pressure, infatuation and toxicity. Toxicity that exists within friendship groups; a strict and cultural household and during hormonal imbalances when going through puberty, battling mental constraints of self-worth and self-love.

This play reminisces on the competitive, bitchy and immature nature of challenging secondary school life. In this play we witness Yvette stuck in an era of betrayal even from her best friend, being the centre of hot gossip, attracting inevitable confrontation, loss of confidence after facing rejection from a close, male companion and not being stereotypically desirable enough to hang out with the popular girls either. As a determined student; we see she ambitiously aimed to avoid fights, leave school with good grades and do her parents proud but somehow ending up with the complete reverse; facing suspension after a fight she didn’t provoke, seeing nothing but disappointment on her mothers face to then get criticised for being too influenced by the western worlds ways; losing a sense of her identity and culture. This show travelled minds through the highs and lows of raw and unapologetic truths, unleashing harsh realities as the audience entered in to Urielle’s world.

Yvette for me was about self-expression. By featuring live looping to reinforce her truth through music accelerated our connectivity to Urielle even moreso. Her incredible talent sophisticatedly radiated as we saw an abundance of her singing and spoken word. The loop pedal in her performance truly brought a different experience to her play. Urielle’s rhythmic sentiment chanted a majestic and energetic sensation, making you want to vibe with her on stage. This incredibly upbeat and vibrant show was well balanced in spite of being an equally emotionally abstract and fugitive autobiography.

The layout of the set was an interior design of a compact apartment almost, the mis-en-scene and vitality of the show was simplistic and significantly strong. Urielle’s consequential storyline involved humorous and enjoyable multi-roleplaying throughout. Her level of creativity showed most efficiently during the scene of her re-enacting her interaction with an acquaintance simultaneously; having half of her body facing the audience whilst smartly clothing her right arm in a jacket that gently and subtly caressed the left part of her face to reflect the intimate moment that was manifesting between them both. This scene had an incredibly suspenseful nature making the believability of this scene intense to watch. Every abstract scene in Yvette achieved a suspenseful and self-wakening substance to take away from in hindsight.

Yvette speaks on the underlying issues of ethnic minorities not looking exotic enough or fitting in to society’s perceptions of beauty standards. This production also reflects on the importance of practicing, acknowledging and embracing a sufficient form of self-love during womanhood. As well as how imperative it is to overcome your past and focuses on the present as what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.

A truly heart felt, rhythmic, fundamental, self-healing and women empowering play that ended with the talented actress, singer and songwriter singing her song ‘You Are’. This song is a declaration of being a survivor and not a victim and owning your scars, ending with the words living, breathing, feeling, winning! An inspirational play that speaks volumes into what it means to not give up without a good fight and crown yourself with victory and let no one destroy your destiny. The song Urielle wrote entitled ‘You Are’ is no doubt powerful enough to help women of all ages who feel execration towards themselves learn to accept, transform and become open to appreciating themselves wholly through this remarkably beautiful song.

Adolygiad O ‘Y Ferch gyda’r Gwallt Hynod Hir’ Gan Lleucu Sion

Ma’ hi’n dipyn i sialens creu drama i blant. Mae gofyn dal sylw, enyn eu dychymyg, a cheisio eu cyffroi, ond roedd cwmni  theatr ‘We made this’ yn barod am y sialens wrth greu y ddrama ‘Y Ferch gyda’r Gwallt Hynod Hir’.

Drama am waith tîm, cryfder merched a chyfeillgarwch sydd yma, gyda’r ddau brif gymeriad sef Rapunzel (Lara Catrin) a’r chyfaill newydd Daf (Owen Alun) yn mynd ar antur i achub cartref Rapunzel a’i mam (Tonya Smith), sydd ar fin mynd i ddwylo’r banc mawr cas.

Ar ôl poeni am fynd a phlant tair a deunaw mis oed i weld drama oedd yn para awr, diflannodd fy ngofidion yn syth wrth gerdded i mewn i weld set liwgar, hudolus. Roedd gofyn i ni eistedd ar y set, ar glustogau lliwgar ac roedd awyrgylch braf i’w deimlo yn syth. Roedd y set yn llawn planhigion, cwt gwenyn,  a llyfrau plant ac yn ystod y ddrama roedd yr hud i’w deimlo hyd yn oed yn fwy wrth i bethau ddod yn fyw, drwy ddefnydd o driciau sain a goleuo clyfar.   Roedd hi’n stori syml iawn, oedd yn hawdd i’r plant ddeall ac yn cynnig cyfleon i’r actorion gael y plant i ymuno yn yr antur. Ond mae hi’n bwysig nodi fod gan y plant reolaeth llwyr o faint o gymryd rhan oedden nhw eisiau ei wneud, os o gwbl, oedd yn ryddhad mawr fel mam i blentyn sy’n gallu bod yn swil iawn.  Roedd o wedi ei gyfarwyddo yn ofalus iawn, yn amlwg gan rhywun oedd a dealltwriaeth dda o blant.

Mae’n rhaid canmol perfformiadau’r tri actor. Llwyddodd y tri i hoelio sylw yr holl plant, drwy roi perfformiadau egnïol a deall anghenion y gynulleidfa. Roedd Tonya Smith yn arbennig, yn llwyddo i ddenu’r plant i’r byd o hud, ac yn annwyl iawn wrth gyfathrebu gyda’i chynulleidfa ifanc.

Roedd hi’n ddrama hyfryd, ac roedd hi’n deimlad braf gallu gweld y plant yn diflannu i fyd dychmygol, hudolus. Cerddodd fy merch o’r theatr yn teimlo ei bod hi’n gallu gwneud unrhyw beth, ac ar dan i ddod o hyd i’r thalent arbennig hi, yn union fel Daf a Rapunzel.

Review James Acaster’s “Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999” by Hannah Bywood

“My jaw still hurts from how much I was laughing”


I’ve been a massive fan of James Acaster for a long time, my first encounter was on Mock The Week where his comedy and personality hooked me immediately. I then got into other shows with him in Taskmaster and Hypothetical (both shows I highly recommend to anyone). This developed into looking into his Netflix show “James Acaster: Repertoire” and loving his stand-up comedy outside of panel shows. So, when it was announced that he was doing a new tour and close to me I had to go see it. Buying my tickets immediately.

It tool place in the William Aston Hall, in Wrexham Glyndwr University. Which confused me as not many comedy shows or performances are performed in a university lecture theatre near me. It was a good venue, it had many rows of seats that allowed everyone to have a good view of James. The comedy show does say that you need to be 14 years old or above and that is expected from James Acaster comedy and should be applied for any parents who want to take younger members to this comedy show. The tickets were £20.35 and the seats were very good for the price and the performance was well worth the price.

I was nervous, this wasn’t my first comedy show but I didn’t know what to really expect.  I was both nervous and excited. It did not disappoint. James Acaster made me laugh so hard that on the way home my jaw hurt! All stories he tells are real, funny, and unbelievable. While telling stories he had a quick wit that allowed for the crowd to really be involved with the stories. The stories allowed for the audience to laugh along with James and capture the humour that he uniquely portrays. I don’t want to go into detail about the show as that would ruin it, but the stories captivate and drag the audience into a comedy show full of laughter, fun and surprises.

If you have ever seen James on talk shows this is nothing like that. It is way better. This is pure James Acaster. and it is 100% genius. If you’ve ever laughed from James’ comedy you will love this show. If you have quick wit, you will love this show. This show is amazing, and I encourage anyone to go watch it.

In the end, I give “Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999” 5 stars, it portrays amazing comedy that is animated and hilarious.

REVIEW: School of Rock – London 25th May 2019 by Patrick Downes

What you get it you cross a film from 2003, one of musical theatreland’s legends plus add in a little piece of youthful magic – School of Rock!

Based on the 2003 film that starred Jack Black, overly enthusiastic guitarist Dewey Finn gets thrown out of his band and finds himself in desperate need of work. Posing as a substitute music teacher at an elite private elementary school, he exposes his students to the hard rock gods he idolizes and emulates — much to the consternation of the uptight principal. As he gets his privileged and precocious charges in touch with their inner rock ‘n’ roll animals, he imagines redemption at a local Battle of the Bands.

Set at the Gillian Lynne Theatre, the theatre has more a studio feel than an auditorium, but this brings everyone closer to the sound. I was fortunate enough to get the ticket lottery for the evening performance, meaning I paid £30 for a pair of tickets valued at £160 – and good seats too!

Craig Gallivan stars as Dewey (he was Stella’s son Luke in the Sky 1 show), and for those who weren’t aware, the boy can sing, plus has the Jack Black act to a tee. As for the kids, what can be said? Very talented musicians in their own right – plus having proud parents – one of which was sat in front of me!

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Julian Fellowes would not be the first two people I’d associate with a production like this, but underneath, every part of the production is polished. From the stage direction, the sound, and the performances.

Generally speaking, musicals based on films can be a little fractious with songs crowbarred in, but School Of Rock bucks this idea with having a plot and musical cues to suit.

It’s the perfect way to introduce children into the theatre, it’s entertaining with an all rounded quality cast and production. You’d be put into detention if you didn’t consider School of Rock as your next London musical adventure!


Review: Patrick Downes

REVIEW Aladdin the Musical #London 27th May 2019 by Patrick Downes

A little bit of Disney magic, one of musical theatres most loved lyricists & composers, and some of the most iconic musical sequences in animation history all add up to Aladdin the musical in London.

Nearing the end of it’s time at the Prince Edward Theatre, you still have a matter of weeks to catch this before 24th August 2019.

In the town of Agrabah, Princess Jasmine is feeling hemmed in by her father’s desire to find her a royal groom. Meanwhile, the Sultan’s right-hand man, Jafar, is plotting to take over the throne. When Jasmine sneaks out one evening, she forms an instant connection with Aladdin, a charming street urchin and reformed thief. After being discovered together, Aladdin is sentenced to death, but Jafar saves him by ordering him to fetch a lamp from the Cave of Wonders. There’s a lamp, and where there’s a Genie, and once Aladdin unwittingly lets this one out, anything can happen!

It’s everything you could expect from a Disney musical, although it took a few songs for the sound to flow through the theatre. There was a tendency for it to be a little bit panto at times, but generally speaking I was entertained all the way through.

Aladdin played by Matthew Croke might be a reformed thief, but Trevor Dion Nicholas as Genie, stole the show. The set pieces of Whole new world, Friend Like Me, and Prince Ali all make this one incredible production. The staging and the ensemble sounded brilliant, but only thing that stops me giving these five stars is some parts of the singing felt a little “screechy”. Maybe that’s just my opinion but it didn’t spoil what was a magical flight on a magic carpet ride.

It closes at the end of August to make way for the other Disney masterpiece that is Mary Poppins, so you’ve got limited time to enjoy some Arabian Nights.


Review: Patrick Downes

REVIEW: Waitress #London 25th May 2019 by Patrick Downes

Back in 2018 visiting New York for a few days I happened to chance upon Waitress. The main reason for this being the theatre was 50 metres away from our hotel (honesty being the best policy I believe). That aside, it also had an extra bonus in that Sara Bareilles – the composer & lyricist was appearing as Jenna.

If you don’t know much about Waitress, it was a quirky little film from 2007, written by the late Adrienne Shelly and starred Keri Russell in the lead role. It was bought by Fox Searchlight pictures for about $6 million, and went on to make $16 million, winning plaudits along the way.

It tells the story of a young woman trapped in a little town, a loveless marriage and a dead-end job as a waitress, who falls into the next trap of an unwanted pregnancy. Escape beckons when she falls in love with her gynaecologist, but he hesitates to leave his practice and his wife.

It began in London earlier this year with Katharine McPhee (American Idol runner up) in the starring role.

Staging wise it’s like nothing you’ll have seen before. There’re not the effects like Wicked, or Frozen, but in its own way, the Adelphi Theatre is a small venue and that adds to the cosiness of the musical. It’s a little piece of small town USA in the heart of London town (plus the smells of pie resonate throughout the foyer and bar areas).

Musically, it feels right – with lyrics written and performed by Sara Bareilles. It has a country contemporary feel that oozes emotion with each note. Before seeing it in NY, I’d not heard any of the score, but once was enough and it left me wanting more – so much so, upon arriving back in the UK I bought the original cast album and Sara’s album of songs from the musical. And since it’s been a regular playlist in my car.

It did start a little rusty, but within a few numbers, you could feel the production spring to life.

As the lead, Katherine McPhee brings to the role something special. I’d go as far and say that her “She used to be mine” is the best I’ve heard in any musical production.

Marisha Wallace as Becky (a role once taken by Keala Settle – her that now is part of The Greatest Showman), together with Laura Baldwin as Dawn provide the perfect harmony and backing to the main story, and both excel with their own story arcs.

David Hunter as Dr Pomatter plays Jenna’s love interest with brilliant comic timing and voice, as does Jack McBrayer as Ogie for Dawn. His “Never ever getting rid of me” performance ranks as one of my favourite musical theatre moments, plus he’s the voice of Fx It Felix from WreckIt Ralph!

After seeing the NY production I did question whether would this work with UK audiences? The musical style is intrinsically American country – so would audiences in the UK buy into it? Simple answer, yes!

If you’re a fan of Sara Bareilles, the film Waitress, or a beautifully written musical that will send you away with a song in your heart, and the taste of pie in your belly, this is for you.


Review: Patrick Downes

NB. Katherine McPhee and Laura Baldwin will be ending their runs shortly, with Laura returning after the Summer.

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