Performance: 5th March 2020
Review by: Richard Fitt
Well that was certainly different!
But first the plot. Written by Denise Deegan, based on Winifred Norling’s 1939 novel The Testing of Tansy and set in the 1920’s, the story centres around Daisy Meredith, a girl from a poor background who wins the first ever scholarship to a prestigious girl’s public school, Grangewood with all its prejudices, bullying and class snobbery associated with public schools of the period. Added to that was a sub plot of missing treasure and a long-lost father, leading to the eventual triumph of our heroine who is also involved in a dramatic cliff rescue. And it certainly is jolly hockey sticks with language that transports you back a century. I have to admit I’d never seen this play before and my research threw up several interesting facts. Firstly the play, surprisingly produced by Andrew Lloyd-Webber was only performed for the first time in 1983 and ran for over a thousand performances in the West End. It has had several professional reprises since, the latest in 2016. Even more surprisingly, looking at the various reviews on the NODA website it appears it is more common than not to use adults to play the schoolgirls. I don’t know how that works, but I’m glad to say Director Nicole Macdonald chose to perform it with actors of the correct age, which worked extremely well for me.
The set constructed by Kevin Beirne, Ron Johnson, Alison Moles, Gerry Stafford and Brian Wood consisted of the back wall of wood panelling; typical of a country house style adorned with a single painting of the school’s founder with a small raised stage in front of it and an old fashioned lectern as its centrepiece. To stage right was an angled very old-fashioned kitchen Aga disappearing backstage to depict Daisy’s mother’s house and the contrasting poverty. All other scenery was depicted using movable furniture, including a chaise longue brought on by two stagehands dressed in brown coats and flat caps, typical of removal men of the period, nice touch. And the piece de resistance was a splendid set of good old-fashioned individual school desks wheeled on for the classroom scenes by the pupils themselves and very reminiscent of my own school days of the 1950’s and 60’s. All very well organised by Stage Manager Alison Moles.
I’m told that the technicians for this play were mostly also the up and coming generation, with the old hands merely on hand for advice when necessary. Lighting designed by Ricky Johnson and operated by Ned Liley and Isaac Richards gave us all the appropriate washes and scenic atmosphere. Sound designed by Mark Luckin and operated by Sam Toner and Bex Cooke all appeared to work without a hitch. So well done guys, nice job! All the actors, unusually for a play, wore mics which in my experience often fail, but no such problems on the night I came. My only comment, whatever happened to good old-fashioned projection, as this is becoming common place, sadly in my opinion!
The costumes, as usual very well coordinated by Virginia Pope, were classic school uniforms of green tunics, green and yellow stripped blazers and the very English school ‘boaters!’ And for the teachers, the usual array of university gowns with, amongst others, a splendid dishevelled wig sourced by Susan Moore for Mr Scoblowski.
The young actresses in this play certainly got to grips with the period accents and language and the general attitudes of the time. The script sees them mostly working in pairs.
The first pair, Daisy Meredith played by Lorelei Cobban and her ever faithful pal Trixie Martin (Alice Toner) were the backbone and heroines of the story with Daisy often breaking the 4th wall to act as narrator, talking about herself in the third person, which I thought was a neat bit of script writing and all very well interpreted by the two actresses.
The badies or should I say the bullies, Sybil Burlington (Sian Macaulay) and her sidekick Monica Smithers (Robyn Long) were really quite spiffing underneath showing they were only really victims of class prejudice and money snobbery, inherent of the period.
The Head of School, Clare Beaumont (Keira Waring) and her fellow prefect Alice Fitzpatrick (Condoleezza Hankins) had some wonderful expressions, showing their status with a kind but stern attitude towards the other pupils.
They were ably supported by Isabelle Burt as Belinda Matheison as the head of the upper forth, Emily Pattison as Winnie Irving and Alice Khajavelidze as Dora Johnson. Particularly good reactions in the class scenes. Nice job all round girls.
Johanna Beech as the principal Miss Gibson was absolutely spot on, if perhaps a tad more kindly and less frightening than I remember school mistresses. She had all the right mannerism and looks of shock horror at the various antics of the girls. Lovely little cameo by Virginia Pope as Miss Granville, always nice to see her out from the backstage. And also great accent from Alison Moles as Mademoiselle. Sadly I wasn’t convinced by the accents in the opening scene between Daisy and her mother (Lynda Wilkin), for people from East London and a poor working class background, surely they should be more ‘cor blimey’ than ‘jolly hockey sticks?’
Ken Wilde as Mr Scoblowski put on his best Eastern European accent to give us a little mystery, as he crept around in a very suspicious manner until his motives are revealed. Periodic whistling was heard throughout the production emanating from the gardener Mr Thompson (John Stevens), who it turns out has the answer, albeit with a little detective work from Daisy and Trixie, to both Daisy’s background and the missing treasure.
Finally all the school songs were sung with a loud aplomb to the accompaniment of the piano played by Zandra Saxby.
As I said at the beginning that was certainly different, a different era, a new young well-rehearsed group of youngsters and an excellent youth production debut by Director Nicole Macdonald, who certainly did a spiffing job of bringing what is really a very old fashioned style of play alive for a modern audience, who lapped it up. A thoroughly enjoyable evening’s entertainment. Well done all, especially the young ladies who rose so well to the occasion. You all pulled it off splendidly!
And once again many thanks to Dave Oliver and the wonderful FOH staff who always make our visits such a pleasure.