Tag Archives: Emma Rice

Children’s Theatre Review: More 21st century girl power than 1950s jolly hockey sticks in Emma Rice’s version of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers in this highly enjoyable family show

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The show is a Wise Children and York Theatre Royal co-production in association with Bristol Old Vic and Bristol City Council. Pictures by Steve Tanner

Malory Towers, Bristol. Review.

Pack your suitcase, grab your hockey stick and take the train from the Passenger Shed at Bristol’s Temple Mead railway station for Malory Towers this summer writes Harry Mottram.

The cavernous building is the venue for a production of the boarding school adventures inspired and abridged from Enid Blyton’s novels. Bursting with teenage hormonally powered enthusiasm, Emma Rice’s breathless script and Alistair David’s superb choreography it is a hugely enjoyable family show. And a production that brings all aspects of theatre together to create a show that is seamless, slick and creatively contemporary. There’s no whiff of the stuffy class based society of the era it was originally set in.

Singer Stephanie Hockley on piano was given support by Vinnie Heaven on drums and Mirabelle Gremaud on harp to accompany the songs performed throughout including the Malory Towers Hymn: “A place to live and prosper, a community and a family where we build our precious futures.”

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Vinnie Heaven plays Bill in the show – seen here entertaining the girls. Pictures by Steve Tanner

Rebecca Collingwood in particular as angry bad girl Gwendoline excelled with her solos including Daddy’s Little Girl, while the cast as a whole filled the pop-up theatre with strong voices without the use of mics. Pat Ballard’s Mr Sandman was one of a number of songs arranged by Nigel Lilley that enchanted an audience that applauded each song and gave the show a standing ovation at the end. Edith Piaf’s Mon Manege A Moi arranged by Ian Ross was another set piece that blended wit, harmony and choreography with the students converting the classroom into a French bistro. A scene that also showcased Lez Brotherston’s set and costumes and Alistair David’s choreography and Ian Ross’s musical direction.

Perfect comedy timing came from Francesca Mills as sensible Sally Hope and Rebecca Collingwood’s teen rage and bullying vindictiveness as Gwendoline was so committed that when she told the audience at the interval to return to their seats they did so immediately. Versatile Vinnie Heaven doubled up as Bill and as a modern school girl in the opening scene that acted as a framing device for the drama.

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Rebecca Collingwood gives a committed performance as bad girl Gwendoline. Pic: Steve Tanner

Izuka Hoyle as the novel’s original hero Darrell Rivers gave a more realistic contemporary tone to her character given her flashes of temper and attempts to reveal the wickedness of Gwendoline. Poor Mary Lou played by Rose Shalloo had the task of being beaten, bullied and browbeaten by Gwendoline, a role she performed with a combination of comic self-deprecation and playing the victim to perfection.

Mirabelle Gremaud’s  musical and acrobatic attributes added greatly to the production as Irene Dupont and Renée Lamb as the joker Alicia added a warmth which softened some of the darker themes.

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Best friends: from left, Sally Hope (Francesca Mills) and Darrell Rivers (Izuka Hoyle). Pic Steve Tanner

The double level stage had a blank backdrop screen shaped as the school’s exterior that allowed for projections depicting anything from the railway journey to the seaside as the scenes demanded. The design blended the work of Malcolm Rippeth (lighting) Lez Brotherston (set), Simon Baker (sound and video) and Beth Carter and Stuart Mitchell’s animations.

In her director’s notes Emma Rice pays tribute to her mother’s generation of female school students who following the 1944 Education Act were given free secondary education. It allowed them to have careers and a freedom to excel in their chosen paths in life. Except of course Malory Towers is anything but a state school, but more an escapist fantasy for young readers who can immerse themselves in a parent free world. A private school for 1950s’ rich kids, a world away from the humdrum world of the average state school, most children attended. The privilege of those attending Malory Towers is skated over by Emma Rice but in fairness she does her best to give Blyton’s story  a 21st century girl power theme accentuating the culture of hope and tolerance promoted at the cliff top Cornish academy.

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The dancing and choreography by Alistair David was excellent in Malory Towers. Pic Steve Tanner

It is a drama that revels in the conflicting relationships of the girls as they each resolved their personal crisis with the help of friends and hopefully become women “that the world can lean on.”

Harry Mottram

Reviewed on Thursday, July 25, 2019.

Reviewed by Harry Mottram for Children’s Theatre Reviews childrenstheatrereviews.com

A  Wise Children and York Theatre Royal co-production in association with Bristol Old Vic and Bristol City Council.

Playing at The Passenger Shed, Station Approach, Bristol BS1 6QH.
Details at: bristololdvic.org.uk
Runs: July 19, to August 18, 2019

Age: 8+

Notes: tickets from £21 (Adults) / £14 (Children) / £75 (Family – 2 Adults, 2 Kids); 90 minutes plus interval. @Wise_Children; WiseChildrenCompany; wise_children #MaloryTowers

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Images by Steve Tanner

The show goes on tour: Cambridge Arts Theatre – 05 September 2019 – 07 September 2019; York Theatre Royal – 10 September 2019 – 14 September 2019; Exeter Northcott Theatre – 17 September 2019 – 21 September 2019; HOME 2 Tony Wilson Place, Manchester – 24 September 2019 – 28 September 2019; Oxford Playhouse – 01 October 2019 – 05 October 2019.

Children’s Theatre Reviews exists to help plug the gap in criticism and writing about theatre for young audiences. It is run entirely voluntarily, and needs support to continue covering and supporting the sector. For more details visitchildrenstheatrereviews.com

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CHILDREN’S THEATRE MAGAZINE – REVIEW: Niall Ashdown as Ole Shuteye and the Emperor sparkles in Bristol Old Vic’s Little Match Girl with its messages of homelessness and rejection – but what a depressing ending

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The Little Match Girl and and other Happier Tales. The Old Vic, Bristol
In the original Hans Christian Anderson story the Little Match Girl dies and goes to heaven. In Emma Rice’s dark retelling we just get the death and a lot of soul searching. Not the uplifting ending to a Christmas season family drama. If only it could have ended with either paradise or The Emperor’s New Clothes – which was a joy to behold.

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The Bristol Old Vic Theatre’s The Snow Queen 12 months ago hit the mark with the darkness of the story coupled with a happy ending, plus great songs, excellent storytelling and extremely funny set pieces. In contrast this production seemed more aimed at adults who appreciated the overall theme of homelessness and alienation in a set that took its style from run down backstreets where violence lurked. Children in the audience appeared slightly traumatised at the end although in places their laughter and appreciation of aspects of the drama were clear.

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Fortunately much of the content of four stories are dominated by the ring master come emcee Ole Shuteye played with an irresistible effervescence by Niall Ashdown who doubled up as the Emperor in one of the production’s stand out scenes as he strips off his cloak. And the drama was rich in movement, song, dance and physical theatre with the story of Thumbelina climaxing with a terrific fight between Karl Queensborough as Toad and Katy Owen as the tiny girl trying to escape to freedom. Edie Edmundson controlled the exquisite Little Match Girl puppet somehow triumphing over cramp as she was on her knees from much of the evening. Using puppets is fine but at times for smaller children in the upper gallery or dress circle they are hard to see.

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Over the river at the Tobacco Factory, Beauty and the Beast with considerably less investment hit the right balance of wonder and storytelling, the darker side of fairy tales, but also humour and hope. It’s as if Rice simply tried to cram too much in emphasising the darker side without anything fluffy and accessible for the youngest in the audience.
At times the overall drama seemed confusing with a number of themes including those of war, rejection, stranger danger, domestic violence and homelessness leaving the audience with a mixture of feelings by the end. A pity as there’s so much to enjoy with a first class cast – from the choreography to the musicians, and from the lighting and sound to the costumes inspired by Edwardian vaudeville.
The play continues to January 14th, 2018.
For more details: www.bristololdvic.org.uk
Harry Mottram
Age 8+
For more Children’s Theatre visit https://childrenstheatrereviews.com and http://www.harrymottram.co.uk
Pictures by Steve Tanner

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