A Small Selection of Teaching and Performing Reviews


  • "I just wanted to take the time to thank you for everything you have done for (our daughter). She is a testament to your efforts. Her success, whatever that may be, will have been started, developed and grown with you. You are an incredible lady and I am thankful that she has a role model like you to help her through this journey. Thank you"
  • "It is visibly clear how much our daughter's confidence has grown"
  • "We would like to thank you for everything you have done for our boys. They love your lessons and cannot wait till the next one!"
  • "I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't had you as my teacher - thank you!"
  • "You have made me realise the type of person I want to be and for that I am very grateful - thank you so much!
  • "Pretty much every new situation I find myself in during my Drama degree I ask myself "WWED?!" (What Would Ella Do?!)"
  • "You're the kind of teacher everyone should have!"


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“the presenter delivers the information, un-rushed and at a pace I can follow without playing catchup.”

“ it makes a pleasant change to have a female presenter in what is a male dominated industry. I particularly liked the fact that her pronunciation was good and there was no dumbing down of the English language which is so common in TV programmes.”

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THE SENTINEL

Theatre Review: Romeo & Juliet, Trentham Shakespeare Company
Iain Robinson

“Ella Sawyer mesmerises as the increasingly distraught and desperate Juliet, particularly during the final act, as the doomed affair draws nearer to its tragic conclusion.”

THE SENTINEL

Theatre Review: The Glass Menagerie, Repertory Theatre, Stoke
Paul Gubbins

ONE of the lessons drummed into student scriptwriters is not to narrate. Don't talk about what is happening, tutors insist, but show it. Or, put a different way, action, not words.

So what does Tennessee Williams do at the start of The Glass Menagerie? On to the stage walks – you've guessed – a character who unashamedly announces himself as the narrator and says he will give the audience truth in the guise of illusion. All of which shows, of course, that lessons can be unlearned – and that a playwright of the stature of Tennessee Williams will throw the creative writing handbook into the back stalls and leave it there.

The Glass Menagerie, which opened last night, is a multi-layered play. It is both lyrical and harsh: lyrical in its language and harsh in the depiction of urban American life in the 1930s.

Tom Wingfield, the narrator (John Collier), is dissatisfied at the warehouse where he works. His mother Amanda (Jane Feeney) nags him and, at the same time, seeks to marry off her nervous daughter Laura (Ella Sawyer), who collects a glass menagerie of small ornamental animals. Amanda's scheming appears to pay off when Tom's colleague Jim O'Connor (Oliver Davies) comes home and meets Laura.

However, nothing is quite as it seems. Revolution in distant Spain contrasts with the decadence of the dancehall; Americans go to movies but do not themselves move; war alone can end the inertia. The glass menagerie, a symbol of the uselessness and fragility of the American way of life, will have to shatter.

David Bryan directs this production and elicits powerful and moving performances from the four actors. The set, used to maximum effect, is the equivalent of any on a professional stage. Just the lighting is a touch exuberant: yellow filters are not necessary to remind the audience of the colour of jonquils.

The Glass Menagerie further enhances the reputation of Stoke-on-Trent Repertory Theatre for tackling innovative and demanding drama.

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THE SENTINEL

Review: Brassed Off, Regent Theatre, Hanley

​The stage production of Brassed Off portrays powerfully the dual battle to save a pit and a colliery brass band which was the theme of the celebrated film.

Stage Productions version of the 1996 story features the requisite band contributed ably by the Cooperative Band Crewe. Adapted for the stage in 1998 by Paul Allen it played in Sheffield and at the National Theatre in London.

The cast have some hefty boots to fill with the likes of Pete Postlethwaite, Stephen Tomlinson, Tara Fitzgerald and Ewen McGreggor all performing strongly in the original film.

Wisely there was no attempt at impersonation, each principal seeking to give an individual performance. Strongest in this were Danny (Mike Johnson) for whom until the end music is at the centre of his life and the badly hit couple Phil and Sandra (David Bird and Caroline Keen) whose desperation is at the heart of the play.

Ella Sawyer is a convincing Gloria whose skills as a musician endear her to the band members and whose romantic interlude is shortlived.

The band is of course central to the story but its strength is in the depth it adds to the emotive moments. Its all here from poverty to illness, despair to romance and at every turn music is its heart and soul. Perhaps some of the poignancy of the playing of Danny Boy as a tribute to their sick conductor is lost through too much pace. Nonetheless the musical contribution throughout was widely appreciated.

Some of the audience expressed concern afterwards about the extent of bad language which was thought to be unnecessary and detracting from rather than adding to the production.

Sometimes lacking pace, there was a strong sense that further hidden treasures, like coal, will be brought to the surface as this ambitious production runs on.

Despite good use of humour the underlying themes are clear. The grim is firmly in Grimley but in the end the band wins through. Sentimentalism? Possibly, but strangely it was in the band and its music that the lasting sense of community was to be found

Ian White

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THE SENTINEL

Review: The Graduate, Stoke Rep Theatre
Tuesday, June 23, 2009

FROM the minute Elaine Sawyer slinked on to The Rep's stage as the original desperate housewife Mrs Robinson, it was clear she had intentions of seducing not only a trembling and terrified Benjamin Braddock but her entire audience too.
Everybody knows there will never be a replacement for either Anne Bancroft or Dustin Hoffman. Therefore, both she and Oliver Davies, playing the sexually-confused graduate about to be devoured, made no attempt to do so.
Instead, both – neither looking nor sounding like their iconic on-screen alter egos from Mike Nichols's 1967 movie – had taken a wise decision and played the characters entirely as their own.
Within minutes, save a few magical moments when the audience's excitement at recognising a particular line or scene from the film was palpable, the movie was soon forgotten. Instead, the focus became the stage plot unfolding.
There were plenty of laughs, largely due to Benjamin's immaturity in the presence of the female form, and these were well-executed by Oliver who had settled into his role so well by the hotel scene he really had broken into a nervous sweat.
At the same time, there were fleeting moments of poignancy – reminders that behind the laughs was a twisted mess in which the likes of Mr Robinson and his daughter Elaine were inevitably going to get hurt.
Elaine being played by Elaine Sawyer's real-life daughter Ella added an extra twist to their captivating performances – as did an unexpected ending to the play. Special mention should also be given to Craig Wood as Mr Braddock.
But there was not a weak link in this cast who performed an exhaustingly dialogue-rich script seamlessly last night.
So here's to you Mrs Robinson, Benjamin, Elaine, the set designers and the rest at The Rep. Let's hope the popularity of this, the final production of the present season, lasts the rest of the week.
The Graduate runs at Stoke Rep until Saturday, June 27. Performances are daily at 7.30pm with a 2.30pm Saturday matinee. For tickets, call 01782 209784 or 206000.
Tamzin Hindmarch

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THE SENTINEL
Friday, June 19, 2009

"Here's to you... mother"

THE GRADUATE - Mother and daughter play mother and daughter in the stage version of a 1960s cinema classic, writes Alan Cookman

FURTHER education of a rather intimate kind is examined in the last production of The Rep's current season.
The company are presenting the stage version of The Graduate, the classic 1960s movie about a confused young man who is assisted in his post-graduate "studies" by the predatory Mrs Robinson.
Newly-graduated Benjamin Braddock, played by Oliver Davies, has returned home to sunny California from his Ivy League college on the East Coast.
The pride of his wealthy, suburbanite parents, Benjamin is expected to become a star in the corporate firmament, but instead feels alienated and adrift in the shifting social and sexual mores of the 1960s.
And yet, although Benjamin rejects the rampant materialism of his parents and their set, he has yet to find an alternative.
And as he frets about his future, old family friend Mrs Robinson, played by Elaine Sawyer, takes it upon herself to help Benjamin graduate from boy to man.
The problem is that while he is being seduced by Mrs Robinson, Benjamin is falling in love with her daughter Elaine, confusingly played by Elaine Sawyer's daughter, Ella.
Director Charles Bartholomew says it would be impossible to ask an audience to divorce The Rep's production from the famous film featuring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft.
"Instead we have embraced it," he says. "The set includes a homage to the central characters in classic stills, painted in loving details by Burslem-based artist Rob Pointon."
Charles says the film's impact can't be over-estimated. "The central theme of disaffected youth, exploited, seduced (literally and figuratively) and betrayed by a corrupt, decadent and discredited older generation, found an appreciative welcome and captured the spirit of the times," he says.
Audiences will be found to notice the incredible similarity between the seductress Mrs Robinson and her doe-eyed daughter Elaine, played by Elaine and Ella Sawyer.
"It's been incredibly strange watching my mother seduce my friend, Oliver Davies, who plays Benjamin," says Ella. "Oliver and I have played lovers in several plays previously, and now I'm being shown how to do it properly."
Ella, Elaine and Oliver are joined by Craig Wood as Mr Braddock, Kevin Wyse as Mr Robinson, Kim Parkes as Mrs Braddock, Richard Morrey as the hotel clerk and the priest, Stephanie Byatt as the stripper and Christopher Salisbury as the psychiatrist.
The Graduate is at the Stoke-on-Trent Rep from June 22 to 27 at 7.30pm, with Saturday matinee at 2.30pm. Tel 01782 209784/206000.

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STONE POST
March, 2009

ONE ELLA OF A PLAY!

Students at a Stone school wowed audiences with their production of the classic Oliver. Pupils at St Dominic's Priory School spent weeks rehearsing and audiences were treated to a performance that "rivalled any West End production." Under the directorship of drama teacher Ella Sawyer, students mastered their roles: with Pollyanna Stone as Oliver, Alice Costello as Fagin, Rachel Chambers as Bill Sykes, and Lauren Haynes as Nancy. Having performed to 200 children from the Stone area, the cast were ready for their performances last Thursday and Friday evening.

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THE SENTINEL
27th January, 2009

GREAT CAST SPARKLES IN CLASSIC ROM-COM

Cleverly weaving together two stories of love and villainy, Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing is recognised as one of his wittiest and best loved comedies.
Its mulititude of complex characters, themes and situations also makes it a challenge to take on, but it has to be said that the Stoke Repertory Players produced a mature and well-rehearsed opening last night when they presented it at The Stoke Rep.                                                                     Eventual lovers Beatrice and Benedick are characters most actors and actresses dream of playing and for this production the duty fell upon Ella Sawyer and John Wicks, who yesterday brought depth, passion, great comic timing and understanding of the language to the stage. Their flowing deliverance of both humorous and serious lines made way for very enjoyable and easy-watcing theatre and they worked well to project convincing onstage chemistry. But for every ounce of comedy director Ken Lowe also rises to the challenge of ensuring that Much Ado About Nothing has its fair share of human understanding with many scenes, particularly in the second half, expressing heartfelt emotion.                     

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WWW.EDFRINGE.COM

A fantastic feat for Blue Dye Productions.
24 Aug 2008

This production of The Graduate was nothing short of amazing. Acted in a very limited and unusual space the director successfully blocked the play so that it did not appear a hinderence to the actors who excelled themselves in their performances. Ben was played brilliantly and his nervous and awkward character, once played so remarkably by Dustin Hoffman, was mastered to perfection. The actress playing Mrs Robinson commanded the stage with great stage presence and achieved the sexy and sultry temptress who is later revealed to have far more problems behind this facade. Praise also given to the character of Elaine who successfully portrayed innocence, and Mrs Braddick who estabished a dynamic and funny character for herself on stage. Sexual tension and fireworks were alive on this stage, with humour shining through. The audience were enthralled throughout the performance and were left wanting more.
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18 Aug 2008

Sassy,sexy and stylish. This is a great adaptation of the classic story with strong performances and side splittingly funny delivery by a gifted cast. A fantastic production well worth seeing. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

ONE4REVIEW.COM
August, 2008

THE GRADUATE - 4 STARS
Those of us above a certain age will remember this as a major movie starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katherine Ross and later became a stage play in the West End and on Broadway.
Blue Dye Productions have taken this and are performing it as part of the Fringe 2008 programme and somehow manage to get all the action and most of the story condensed into an hour in a far from ideal acting space.
Following his graduation Benjamin Braddock, Gareth White, is having to suffer a homecoming party thrown by his parents Frank and Olive. Hal and Judith Robinson, his parent’s business partner are there and culminating in Ben taking Mrs Robinson, Ella Sawyer, home they commence an affair.
Throw into the mix Elaine, the Robinson’s daughter who is set up by her father to go on dates with Ben and the storyline gets even more complicated and this leads to revelations that cause ructions.
This is a fine play, superb performance from this young company, and how Kate Shenton the director managed to get all the action to take place in the available space I’ll never know

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SENTINELLE
12th August, 2008

TWO MINUTES WITH: ELLA SAWYER

Actress and drama teacher Ella Sawyer, who is 25 and lives at Whitmore, is currently starring as Mrs Robinson in an Edinburgh Festival fringe production of The Graduate.
Can you remember when you first appeared on stage?
My first major role was as Cotton Tail in Peter Rabbit at the tender age of four. I still have the bunny ears and little tail my mother made for me.
What attracted you to the footlights?
My mum is a speech and drama teacher and she went to drama school, so I have it in my blood. I've always loved the stage and love to be in front of an audience.
Do you prefer lighter or more serious roles?
I prefer to be able to do both. My last play at the Stoke Rep was the Ray Cooney farce Our Of Order, and it was great fun. However, I also love the challenge of more serious roles.
Is there one performance you are especially proud of?
When I was training at Manchester University, I was awarded the prize for best supporting actress in the Manchester-In-Fringe Festival for my performance as Ariel in Shakespeare's the Tempest. I will always be proud of that performance.
Would your rather act than teach acting?
I'm very lucky to be able to do both. I absolutely love teaching and seeing my pupils progress and succeed, and I also love treading the boards, although it's sometimes difficult to find enough hours in the day.
How do you feel about playing Mrs Robinson in Edinburgh?
She's a fun character to play, so manipulative and bitchy, but she's really a sad, lonely woman and it's interesting to see both sides. I'm only 25, so I was apprehensive about the age gap, but I've been aged so well for the part that the preview audiences in York said it wasn't noticeable.
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THE SENTINEL
April 18th, 2007

HAUNTING CLASSIC IS BROUGHT TO LIFE

Stoke Rep is a company with a knack for selecting the right play, the right director and the right cast. Nothing bears this out more than the production of Henrik Ibsen's classic drama Ghosts, which opened last night at the Leek Road theatre.Ghosts is a dark, demanding play, and a courageous choice for an amateur company.
It explores the depths of the human psyche and exposes the ghosts of past ideas which continue to haunt the present.
The piece is bleak, and devoid of all but sardonic humour, and is the sort of play that amateurs seek generally to avoid.
However, Ken Lowe's direction - and a fine, deep set designed by Brian Hadley - produces performances from all five cast members which would grace any professional stage.
Ella Sawyer and David Bryan firmly establish their characters - the maidservant Regina and the carpenter Jakob Engstrand - at the start of the play with a spitting, snarling stand-off, which sets the standard for the rest of the production.
Charles Bartholomew gives a measured, thoughtful performance as Pastor Manders.
He is a man who has run from life and who bases his existence on hearsay and second-hand opinion. He is the antithesis of Oswald (James Freeman) who longs for the 'joy of life' but, because of the past, is unable to realise his dream.
Wrestling with her own ghosts is Oswald's mother, widowed Mrs Alving, played by June Hodson.
The final act confrontation between Mrs Alving and Oswald, when mother and son face each other, and the truth about past and present, over a chair, is a theatrical moment to be savoured. Similarly, Mrs Alving's final cry of anguish is a sound which - fittingly - will haunt the memory for considerable time to come.
Ghosts, although written towards the end of the 19th Century, still has much to say to modern audiences. It should not be missed. Ghosts runs until Saturday and again from Tuesday, April 24 to Saturday, April 28.
Paul Gubbins
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THE SENTINEL
March 2007

ALL DOLLED UP
The lives and loves of a group of gambles will be re-enacted in Staffordshire this week as part of a school production of the hit musical Guys and Dolls..
Nearly 90 pupils aged between 6 and 18 will be taking part in the show at St Dominic’s Priory School in Stone, following the success of their version of My Fair Lady last year.
Ella Sawyer, director of the show and Speech & Drama teacher at the school, said: “Everyone has been working really hard, and hopefully it’s going to be an amazing production.”
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THE SENTINEL
July 2006

A DREAM TO REMEMBER
For film, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s most enchanting comedy, is see as a treasure; a chance for any director to display fantasy on the highest level making the viewer believe that what is involved: the fairies, the elves, the beasts, is right there at their fingertips.
For theatre however, especially amateur theatre, it is fair to say that the director does not have the same scope as that which film-making allows: unless, of course, you are Brian Rawlins and you are directing for Trentham Gardens open-air theatre. A horse, a beautiful carriage drenched in leaves and flowers, fairies and elves floating through the surrounding woods as if by magic and Titania, Queen of the Fairies, arriving across the lake as the summer’s sun slowly disappears behind. This is what the audience at last night’s production of Shakespeare’s classic play had to absorb as the Trentham Shakespeare Theatre set about bringing this wonderful, timeless story to life.
A story that is as much-loved by children as it is by adults, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (or a play within a play as it is so often referred) is pure magic and Rawlins, in making the most of the beautiful surroundings of Trentham Gardens’ Amphitheatre, ensures that this was not lost. What he presented was an original, stunning entertainment that was a joy to watch.
Naturally, Rawlins’s creation would not have worked had it not been for the cast which gelled to secure a promising opening night. As Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the Fairies, Ian Brereton and Caroline Keen were extremely effective, while Oliver Davies, David Bird, Ella Sawyer and Justine Bailey were each comical, emotional and affectionate as Lysander, Demetrius, Hermia and Helena – the love-lorn characters with which a large majority of the plot revolves.
Lysander loves Hermia and Hermia loves Lysander. Demetrius once loved Helena but now loves Hermia. Egeus, Hermia’s father, thinks Demetrius to be a better suitor for his daughter and gives her four days to decide between Demetrius, life in a nunnery, or death…ah, the course of true love never did run smooth.
Liz Rowley
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THE SENTINEL
March 2006

BLOOMIN’ LURVERLY – PUPILS’ PLAY SET FAIR
Pupils from a Stone school are gearing up for the first night of an all-singing, all-dancing production of My Fair Lady.
More than 80 students from St Dominic’s Priory School will be performing in the entertaining musical tonight and tomorrow.
The school stage has been transformed into Edwardian London for the rags-to-riches tale of flower seller, Eliza Doolittle, played by Olivia Hutchinson.
Eliza is taken under the wing of Professor Higgins (Aimee Harrison) – who attempts to turn her into a lady after being challenged to make a “Duchess from a guttersnipe.”
The show, which has a full cast of lords and ladies, sweeps, jockeys and acrobats, includes a host of famous foot-tapping songs and classic lines.
Deputy headteacher Pat Adamson said: “We would like to express our sincere gratitude for the outstanding support from parents, school staff and friends of the school. Without such support, school productions of this sort would be impossible to mount.”
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STAFFORDSHIRE NEWSLETTER
Thursday December 23rd, 2004

TEENAGERS’ VIEW OF RUSSELL PLAY
Teenage thespians from St Dominic’s Priory School in Stone have captivated theatre-goers with their interpretation of a new play.
Sixth Form and Year 11 speech & drama students enthralled parents, teachers, governors and invited guests with two performances of Women on View.
The all-female cast staged Roy Russell’s work in front of two 50-strong audiences after rehearsing for just six weeks under the guidance of drama teacher Ella Sawyer.
The Station Roads school’s Priory Hall was transformed into a TV studio and green room, complete with cameras, screens and TV sets broadcasting live footage.
A School spokeswoman said: “The girls’ performances were excellent and went down very well.”