Adapted and Directed by Emma Rice, from books by Enid Blyton
24 - 28 September 2019; 2hr
Malory Towers is a series of six Enid Blyton published in the late 1940s. Generations of girls (and maybe some boys?) have grown up on the tales of the much-loved cliff-top Cornish boarding school.
Girls go to Malory Towers to become “women the world can lean on”. It’s a place where honesty and kindness are regarded above all and where the worst thing that could happen to you would be getting “sent to Coventry”.
The books have been adapted for the stage by Emma Rice and her Wise Children company, with Rice also directing.
This is Rice’s love letter to the books (which she describes as her ‘happy Lord of the Flies’) and to the women who taught at schools like these in the post-WWII years. This love shines through every aspect of the production, from Les Brotherston’s storybook sets from boarding school days, such as the headmistress’s office and dormitory beds, to Simon Baker’s sound and video design (the witty projections are a highlight).
A diverse cast of seven (eight if you include Thunder the horse, which having seen the show, I think we better had) take on the roles of the newly-arrived pupils, with Sheila Hancock’s commanding tones providing the voice of unseen headteacher Miss Grayling.
The story follows hot-tempered but well-meaning Darrell Rivers, (a beautifully natural Izuka Hoyle, fresh from mega hit SIX), who wants to do her time at Malory Towers justice, but finds herself too often falling foul of the red mist that descends when she sees fellow pupils being treated unfairly.
We also have spoilt Gwendoline "my Daddy’s going to send me to finishing school in Switzerland’ Lacey, played with Hermione Granger-like indignation by Rebecca Collingwood; sparky joker Alicia, played by another SIX alumni Renee Lamb; timid Mary-Lou, brought to life with awkward charm by Rose Shalloo, and dreamy musician Irene, portrayed by circus-trained and stunningly-voiced Mirabelle Gremaud.
Making up the cast are Francesca Mill’s crowd-pleasing portrayal of bossy but kind Sally Hope, and Vinnie Heaven’s touching performance as horse-mad Bill (not Wilhemina) Robinson.
The cast is terrific, bringing Blyton’s words and spirit alive with the help of some charming new songs, many of which prompted a lump in the throat or tear in the eye.
The production is very funny – certainly tongue-in-cheek in parts – but always affectionate and, crucially, proceedings never descend into spoof.
Girl Power is a phrase bandied about a fair bit, but it certainly applies here – I won’t spoil it but one cracking line about what it’s like to be a woman compared to being a man drew loud cheers and laughs from the audience.
One small, geeky gripe: Darrell and Co. brandish hockey sticks at various points of the proceedings, but any Malory Towers purist will know lacrosse was the team sport of choice at the school!
Funny, fierce, feisty and feminist – this is a beautiful production which thoroughly deserves its sell-out status. If you can get a ticket, do – especially if you grew up devouring the tales of Darrell and Co. and dreamed of boarding the train to Cornwall to enjoy boarding school adventures and midnight feasts.