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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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