Drama Express

Reviews for "It's Okay to be Different"

October 2022, by Joel Moel (Screencritix)

Focusing on the young people and families of an award-winning UK theatre group for people with additional needs called Drama Express, as they create a performance to premiere at Cornwall’s iconic Minack Theatre. This is Robin Toyne’s documentary It’s Okay To Be Different.

Thanks to the hundreds of streaming services that are now available at the touch of a button, it is easy to sit back and watch anything you want to. Whereas before, movies and TV shows became major talking points at work or at school, the past few years have seen an increase in the number of documentaries such as Get Back, Tiger King, and the Last Dance that have become cultural milestones, memes, and conversation starters. With this in mind, it is quite possible that today’s era in documentary filmmaking is the boom time for the genre, but while these shows are some of the most famous, there are many more documentaries that fly under the radar and these can sometimes be much more worthy of your time, and far more rewarding.

One such documentary is the magical It’s Okay To Be Different directed by Robin Toyne. It centres on the young people and families of Drama Express – an award-winning UK theatre group for young people with special educational needs. It’s Okay To Be Different follows the exploits of its members, their parents, and the volunteers as they all work together to create a live performance to premiere in front of an audience at the Minack outdoor theatre in Cornwall.

Filmed in the usual documentary style with talking head interviews and exterior shots of the group in action, the documentary opens at the group’s ‘Oscar’ award ceremony – an opportunity to get dressed up, meet with their friends, and celebrate the work they have all done over the past year. We meet a couple of the group’s performers, the most vocal being Amelia, Lydia, Charlotte, Ruby, Jimmy, and William, along with their parents. We also meet the real hero of the piece, Drama Express’ creative director Simon Allison – a man who has created a safe and secure environment full of enthusiasm and laughter for children with special needs to embrace, socialise, and perform in. Also involved is the wonderful Morwenna Banks who is the narrator of the documentary. Known to the nation as Mummy Pig in Peppa Pig, a fact that is sweetly acknowledged by one of the children early on, Banks is also a patron of Drama Express, and not only is her voice work here exceptional there is a genuine love and warmth that envelops every syllable she utters.

There are some truly heart-warming moments to be had with It’s Okay To Be Different, whether that be the parents telling us how they have seen their children blossom, gaining a confidence and self-respect they never thought was possible, to the children showing their natural reactions and behaviours. Moments like Jimmy, without any kind of prompt, telling his mum he loves her to a genuinely jaw-dropping moment later on that sees Ruby singing an acoustic version of Zombie by The Cranberries. All of this is affectionately caught through the lens of director Toyne’s camera as she focuses on the goodness that permeates through every scene. There is rarely any stillness, even during the lockdown periods; Toyne concentrates on keeping things moving. There is always something to look at, some piece of advice worth listening to, or some reaction to cherish and, because of this, the 60 minutes fly by.

The main positive about It’s Okay To Be Different is that it challenges the perceptions of disability – always telling us what can be achieved rather than what can’t. It is both an argument for acceptance and an exploration of the challenges of living with additional needs. A record of the drive and determination of an extraordinary and inspirational group, It’s Okay To be Different is a documentary that is worth far more of your time than the 60 minutes it takes to watch it.

August 2022 Swati Verma (UK Film Reviews)

The director Robin Toyne along with the team strongly believes in combining Drama, Cinema and Creativity together to provide these youngsters with additional needs the medium of expression so that the audience also gets an opportunity to understand and connect to their life stories on an emotional level with the wonderful narration by Morwenna Banks.

The plot of the film revolves around Cornwall's unique theatre group for children with special needs drawing on their experiences of living through Covid to devise a new play. With humour, heart, and honesty they tell it as they see it. There are a lot of challenging perceptions of disability from the first rehearsal to the premier at Cornwall's iconic Minack theatre, inviting us into their colourful world.

The cinematic piece follows a nonlinear storyline taking the form of a narration. The DOP Mat Lingard captures a close-up shot of a man rolling out the red carpet followed by a series of mid-shots and long shots to give an insight into an award ceremony establishing the subject matter of the movie and making it engaging for the viewers. The colour platelet, set design, lighting, dialogues, costume, and makeup has been kept natural by the filmmaker so that the viewers get to experience a sense of realism while watching the documentary and also salute these extraordinary people to fight through all the hardships to emerge stronger each time.

The members of the Drama Express led by Simon Allison (Creative director, Drama Express) and his wife Emma Allison support the youth to realize and achieve their dreams of performing on stage just like their peers in the regular world with the help of volunteers and specialists. Drama Express ensures that it works with utmost commitment, sincerity, and care toward the individual needs of everyone. Richard Spain (Amelia's Dad), Carolyn Schuoler (Jimmy's Mum), Bonita Wallis (Ruby's Mum) and others feel immensely happy that their children are in the safe hands where they will get the wings to fly towards their goal and aspirations and not live with the fear of the need to fit in the society.

It's Ok to be Different talks to its audience about accepting self as they are and appreciating the feeling of being valued by family and friends and not trying to fit into someone else's criteria. This documentary deals with the challenges of parenting during the pandemic especially in the case of differently-abled children. The cinematic piece educates the viewers regarding being open and willing to stay true to showcasing the real personality and avoid wearing a mask to cover up as fakeness does not work on a long-term basis. The creative piece reiterates the importance of songs that help to express all kinds of emotions. The film aims at normalising the notions relating to disability and appeals to the masses to become empathetic towards it but still respect the person for whom they are. The Drama Express gives these young people an opportunity to explore social skills like friendship and beat the feeling of sadness, anxiety, and loneliness which were the byproduct of the pandemic.

Robin Toyne (Director) and Mat Lingard (Cinematographer) have jointly co-produced this project and I want to appreciate all their efforts to make such a beautiful and impactful movie accessible to a wider audience.

September 2022 TMFF (The Monthly Film Festival)

Charting the journey of Cornwall’s unique theatre group for youngsters with additional needs who draw on their experiences of living through Covid to devise a new play, ‘It’s Ok to be Different’ is a feature length documentary from Quintessence Films Ltd. The film illustrates the journey of these beautiful souls with humour, heart and honesty as the youngsters rise above their predicaments to express themselves through art.

The best thing about the production is how it puts the kids front and centre, showcasing both their personalities and their immense depth of talent that manifests itself in some pretty unique ways. It is clear that the children are having a great time and they are putting in genuine effort in order to rise to the occasion. At the same time, due appreciation must also be extended towards the teachers and volunteers who prepare and nurture the children and support them every step of the way. The film takes this wholesome experience of love, compassion and acceptance and celebrates it to the fullest.

The narrative takes its time to introduce each child and then showcases how all of them prepare, rehearse and then perform the act. Each child has a unique routine to do and it is up to the trainers to prepare the children for the final act. What follows is a sometimes chaotic, fun and wholesome montage in which the children and the teachers grow not only in their love for each other but also for the craft of theatre itself. This all builds to a moving performance at a stunning castle by the sea where the children are allowed to manifest their talents at their own pace. It’s absolutely gorgeous; the performances, the setting and the positive way in which the audience embraces both the children and their talents. The whole thing is a celebration of the human spirit and how every weakness can be overcome with love and support from those who matter.

Therefore, Robin Toyne’s ‘It’s Ok to be Different’ succeeds in what it sets out to do. Not only is it a moving piece about the experiences of special children as they are exposed to the performing arts, it is an emotional look at the struggle of these children themselves. The documentary celebrates the resolve of the children who, despite all odds, have not allowed their conditions to inhibit their aspirations. A testament to indomitable human spirit, ‘It’ Ok to be Different’ is a rousing work of art, one that hits the viewer in more ways than one.

Roll of Honour for "It’s Okay to be Different"

Docs Without Borders Film Festival
February 19, 2023
Award Winner

The Children’s International Film Festival of Wales
September 10, 2022
Award Winner

BlueSky Film & Music Festival
August 17, 2022
Award Winner

Global Film and Music Festival USA
October 3, 2022
Award Winner

Big Syn International Film Festival, London
October 18, 2022
Award Winner

Golden Nugget International Film Festival
September 17, 2022
Award Winner

London Rocks International Film Festival
October 9, 2022
Honourable Mention

London International Monthly Film Festival
June 9, 2023
Award Winner

Stafford Film Festival
January 2, 2023

Selected for the following festivals taking place in 2023

(Judging status to be decided)

RS Filmfest
In Consideration

Crossing The Screen
In Consideration

International World Film Awards
In Consideration

Hungarian Disability Film Festival
In Consideration

Manchester Lift-Off Film Festival
In Consideration