Tag Archives: Kara Tointon

A ‘Night’ to Remember


Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Monday 13th November, 2017


Director Christopher Luscombe sets his Illyria in the late Victorian era, with Orsino’s court designated as ‘the town’ and Olivia’s estate as ‘the country’.  Thus the action is divided along the same lines as The Importance of Being Earnest – the characters even travel between the two by train.  There is a distinctly Wildean feel to Duke Orsino’s court.  Orsino (Nicholas Bishop) surrounds himself with witty young men, among them Valentine (Tom Byrne) and a rather striking Curio (Luke Latchford) posing almost naked for a painting.  Later, we meet Antonio (an elegant and dignified Giles Taylor) who openly declares his love for Sebastian while sporting Oscar Wilde’s green carnation – he even gets arrested!

Washed up into this world of witty men is Viola, who is more than a match for them.  Disguising herself as a boy and becoming servant to Orsino, Viola, now Cesario, finds herself falling for the Duke and he for her – although he buys into the disguise.  There is a sliding scale to sexuality and Orsino seems skewed toward one end.

Dinita Gohil makes for a bright-eyed and plucky Viola – it is about her fate we care the most.  Kara Tointon’s elegant and haughty Olivia becomes more enjoyable as she begins to dote on Cesario.  Her protracted period of mourning for a dead brother is clearly to keep Orsino at bay, while Orsino woos by remote control, preferring the company of young men.

As Malvolio, Adrian Edmondson gets across the prudish servant’s pompous officiousness and also his hissing contempt for the others.  In his mad, yellow-stockinged scene, he’s more of a cheeky chappie from the music hall; I get the feeling there is more wildness beneath the surface than he lets out.  His best moments come at the end when Malvolio, a broken man, comes to realise how he has been played and by whom.

Vivien Parry is excellent as Maria, instigator of the practical joke against Malvolio, bringing a lot of fun and heart to proceedings, but John Hodgkinson’s Sir Toby Belch (who does more farting than belching) has little of the lovable rogue about him.  He’s a drunkard, a user and a bully – too much of a mean streak for me.  Similarly, Beruce Khan’s Feste is embittered with anger and cruelty, which could be argued to stem from his position, as entertainer to silly white people, but I find the vehemence of his revenge leaves a bitter aftertaste, after an otherwise enjoyable and engaging performance.

There are many high points.  The letter scene involves some hilarious comic business with the garden statuary; Michael Cochrane’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek is a posh, bewildered delight; Sarah Twomey’s Fabia is a lot of fun; and songs like ‘O Mistress Mine’ and ‘Come Away, Death’ are beautifully melancholic, even with added Indian beats and instrumentation.

Nigel Hess’s original compositions bring Victorian music hall flavours but at times the music is overpowering.  It’s a bit like when an Oscar winner speaks for too long and the orchestra strikes up to play them off.  Several scenes suffer from this intrusion.  Some of the humour seems heavy-handed: a pack of servants fleeing the mad Malvolio doesn’t quite work for me.

Overall, I like the style.  Simon Higlett’s design marries Victorian architecture (hothouses, railway stations) with an autumnal palette.  Mortality is ever-present in the piles of dead leaves.

While there is much to admire and enjoy about this lively production with its many fresh ideas, I’m afraid some of the cakes are a little stale and some of the ale is somewhat flat.

Twelfth Night production photos_ 2017_2017_Photo by Manuel Harlan _c_ RSC_234119 (1)

To the letter: Adrian Edmondson as Malvolio (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Old Flames


New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 10th January, 2017


Written in 1938, Patrick Hamilton’s taut thriller is a pastiche of Victorian melodrama: an innocent girl is persecuted by an evil man but the intervention of a hero saves her from doom and thwarts the evil-doer’s plot…

Kara Tointon is a picture of innocence as the vulnerable Bella, believing herself to be going around the twist.  She is child-like, infantilised by her hubby who manipulates her every mood.  Tointon endears herself to us, keeping on the right side of pathetic and making the heightened dialogue sound natural.  As her bullying husband, Jack, Rupert Young domineers, exuding evil.  What begins as a study in mental cruelty swiftly becomes something even darker as the true nature of the man Bella married is brought to light.

It’s not all darkness: the unexpected arrival of Bella’s saviour in the form of former detective Rough (Keith Allen) brings humour and more than a touch of levity to proceedings.  Of course, this accentuates the moments of tension and suspense by contrast. Rough is a breath of fresh air to Bella’s stuffy, shut-in existence, and Allen plays him with relish in a funny and yet compelling portrayal.  There is also humour in the roles of the maidservants.  Charlotte Blackledge’s Nancy is cheeky to the point of impudence, while Helen Anderson’s Elizabeth is a masterclass in comic playing, doing so much with a simple “Yes, Miss” or “No, Miss”.  Wonderful stuff.

David Woodhead’s set design is to be savoured, capturing the oppression of Bella’s existence with a looming ceiling and dark panelling.  The set is enhanced by Howard Hudson’s lighting, which renders the action almost sepia at times, like the fading portraits on the walls, and, of course, the all-important gaslight that is so crucial to the plot. The sound design, by Ben and Max Ringham, augments the tension with dissonance, while Anthony Banks’s direction winds up the suspense like a watch spring.  Banks reins in the melodramatic excesses to keep the behaviour credible for a modern audience and this high-quality production proves this creaky old drama still has power to thrill.

You can tell it’s working when the villain is booed during his curtain call!


Kara Tointon (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Having Relations

Festival Theatre, Malvern, Tuesday 28th August, 2012

This revival of one of Alan Ayckbourn’s early plays shows that even in his late 20s, the playwright was a master of comic form. He was later to become more experimental with structure but this neat four-hander shows how a simple set-up of misunderstanding can be spun out of control to a dizzying and hilarious effect.

It begins in the London flat of Ginny (Kara Tointon). It is in this opening scene that we are most reminded that this, contemporary in its day, has now become a period piece. Audrey Hepburn and The Beatles posters break up the garish pattern on the wallpaper. Water damage stains the ceiling. There is that curious mix of vibrancy and dinginess you see so often in the 1960s. This is important only for a couple of details that time and society have left behind. Once the action transfers to the Buckinghamshire garden of Philip and Sheila, the play stands up almost as if it had been written yesterday.

As Ginny’s boyfriend Greg, Max Bennett begins the play in the nude. Wrapped in a bedsheet he amuses himself with Sabu impressions and seems well on the way to becoming a standard Ayckbourn prat. He’s not as amusing as he thinks he is – which is what makes him amusing to us. But the genius of the writing doesn’t stop there: When the sheet comes off and it begins to emerge from the dialogue that Ginny is not being fully truthful, it is amazing how quickly we become endeared to this prat. He is a vulnerable and well-meaning sort (and pretty buff too!).

The real Ayckbourn monster of the piece is Philip (Jonathan Coy) whose double standards quickly expose him. He and his wife (Felicity Kendal) suspect each other of having affairs. She teases him with letters she has mysteriously received on Sundays, in a bid to make him jealous and win back his attention. He is better at covering his tracks.

Greg shows up out of the blue, believing he is calling in on Ginny’s parents to ask them for her hand in marriage. From here on in, the comedy is cranked up notch by notch as layer upon layer of misunderstanding and confusion is piled on. Add Ginny’s arrival and the revelation that she is there to end it with her older lover Philip and the entire second act is a dazzling display of invention and farcicial situations. As nuggets of information become clear, and pennies begin to drop, a power play starts, as characters strive to preserve the misconceptions in order to manipulate the situation to their own ends. It is staggeringly entertaining, not just in the writing but the comic playing and timing of this gang of four is perfect. Felicity Kendal is spot on as the dizzy wife who at last turns the table on her adulterous husband. Jonathan Coy does a nice line in apoplexy and convivial sarcasm as the monstrous Philip. Max Bennett makes for an amiable prat and Kara Tointon keeps her cool as wily Ginny, trying to keep a handle on the situation. Lindsay Posner’s direction keeps the action ticking along, allowing each character their moments of light and shade.

It is a treat of a night out. A glimpse at how sexual mores may have altered and a reminder how the timeless ingredients of comedy: misunderstandings and mistaken identities can work like a charm in the hands of a master.