Daisy Pulls it Off
Guildford School of Acting
Charing Cross Theatre
"Welcome to Grangewood!" comes the gleeful cry from the cast of this "spiffing", "topping", "capital", production of Denise Deegan's 1983 comedy from graduating actor-musicians of Guildford School of Acting.
It's a delightful adventure through the illustrious halls of a 1920s girls' school, complete with pitch-perfect singing and choreography timed to comic perfection. To call it a parody of girls' adventure stories would be to ignore how sincerely fun this is.
Daisy Martin, a note-perfect Marina Papadopoulos, wins a scholarship to the "lower fourth" at the prestigious school and is immediately met with class prejudice, "sneaking" and attempts to get her expelled by nefarious snobs with "beastly" methods such as framing her for cheating in a geography test. But she teams up with her friend Trixie to solve the mystery of the hidden Grangewood treasure and the identity of the strange gardener who loiters in the grounds with his guitar.
Eventually, after saving a peer from watery doom and faced with the perils of midnight feasts, Daisy manages to prove to her peers that money and moral purity are not always equivalent. After all, how could someone who sings and plays the piano so well be a bad person?
Daisy is lower class, but the mystery of why she speaks in a cut-glass accent is finally revealed. In its rigid rules, Latin exclamations ("jubilate!") and nostalgic fervour, Nicholas Scrivens's direction and Niall Bailey's music make Grangewood seem like great fun, and faintly fascist at the same time. Some might say a bit like Brexit.
The cast narrate the story but so do their instruments. Throughout, the musical comedy brilliantly underscores moments of mock tension. And there are some superb, intricate set pieces, such as the hockey match, where the cast wield the bows of their instruments in perfectly controlled chaos.
It would be wrong to single anyone out, as this is built on ensemble movement and timing, but Katy Ellis gives an exuberant and very funny performance as Daisy's sidekick Trixie Martin, and drives much of the action. And Gemma Evans's Monica has some great dry asides where she tires of following the snooty orders of her friend Sybil (Persia Babayan-Taylor).
Hinc spes efulget indeed.
Reviewer: Tim Fox