Adapted by Emma Rice from the novels by Enid Blyton
Exeter Northcott Theatre
Enid Blyton’s much-loved six-book series Malory Towers, published between 1946 and 1951, depicts a jolly hockeysticks and jovial japes boarding school where girls rub along forging friendships and conquering character defects.
Blyton described the series as dramatising "the little spites and deceits of school life, the loyalty and generosities of friendship and the never-ending impact of on character upon another" and Wise Children’s Emma Rice (evicted from the Globe artistic directorship for her use of contemporary sound and lighting technology) has seized upon the rather twee stories to conjure a quirky delight.
Cornish clifftop post-WW2 Malory Towers is populated by stereotypes: deliciously naughty Alicia (Renée Lamb), nervous and gawky Mary Lou (Rose Shalloo), horse-mad tomboy Bill (Vinnie Heaven), exotic musical gymnast Irene (Mirabelle Gremaud) and the superbly sensible Sally (Francesca Mills).
Flawed protagonist Darrell Rivers (Izuka Hoyle) must tame her red mist temper and pursue the truth to overcome ostracisation while horrid spoilt brat Gwendoline jetés and lies but conceals a dark, unpalatable secret.
From the girls’ tremendous character-fixing introductions at Paddington, through dormitory dramas and classroom catastrophes, to school play rehearsals, decent traits and unselfish acts are learned as the youngsters fulfil the school (less than snappy) code to become "good-hearted and kind, sensible and trustable, good, sound women the world can lean on".
There’s derring-do upon slippery cliff tops, cocoa to ward off wild windy nights, team spirit and girl power with a smattering of 1940s musical (including a beautifully harmonised Mr Sandman), superb comedic timing (particularly the delightful Mills), nostalgia and a glint of self-deprecation and increasing tongue-in-cheek knowingness. Fab.
Matthew Bourne’s Associate Artist Lez Brotherson’s three-tier set—auditorium floor dormitory, stage classroom, towering cliff and ramparts—adds depth with the swimming pool genius. Simon Baker’s projections are naif and apposite as horses thunder over the horizon, girls leap from the high board and cliffhangers abound.
Sheila Hancock is the voice of the unseen Headteacher while pianist Stephanie Hockley (and others) bring Ian Ross’s additional songs to life for extra dimension to a great fun couple of hours with something for everyone—enough story and suspense for first-timers and much nostalgia for us oldsters already familiar with the books.
Reviewer: Karen Bussell