Malory Towers at York Theatre Royal

Malory Towers  was adapted by Emma Rice from Enid Blyton’s stories. The director was Emma Rice.

Review by Angie Millard

Photos by Steve Tanner

I was intrigued to see what Emma Rice had done with the second production for her company Wise Children. With memories of the West End success ‘Daisy Pulls it Off’ and vague recollections of Famous Five spoofs led by French and Saunders, I took myself to York Theatre Royal feeling prepared. However, you never quite know what you’ll get with Emma Rice do you?

The production is described by Rice as ‘My happy Lord of the Flies…. joyfully radical to its bones’. This manifests itself in a theatrical cabaret style, framed by the present day and drifting back into Blyton’s world where seven girls play out  the post war values of strength and resilience. There is song and dance, a rousing opening chorus and old classics merge with new compositions from Ian Ross and Rice herself. The cast sing and dance with elan to showcase a diversity of talent.

The group consists of spoilt and spiteful Gwendoline played with acerbity by Rebecca Collingwood; her victim shy Mary Lou played by Rose Shaloo and Darrell the ‘problem child’: Izuka Hoyle who has instincts of fairness and justice, despite her temper. There is Renee Lamb as Alicia, the joker of the group, Francesca Mills  as the formidable and bossy Sally, non-binary actor Vinnie Heaven as horse loving Wilhelmina (Bill) and the musically gifted Mirabelle Gremaude. Together they spin a tale of girls learning to live together with kindness and honesty. The best of Blyton with Rice’s voice to add a hint of subversion.

We also meet the cast as they climb into the audience and perform music in the interval. As in all Enid Blyton, adults are superfluous and the Head Mistress is an animated voice recorded by Sheila Handcock.

The set, designed by Lez Brotherston, is ingeniously contrived using a back screen; floor boards are lifted to become a swimming pool;  the towers projected to provide the backdrop for a daring rescue.

This production is an unexpected choice after  Rice’s last production of Angela Carters ‘Wise Children. I wasn’t thrilled by the use of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ for the school play, as it  seemed to steer us close to sentimentality, but the production was terrifically entertaining, theatrically original and if the jokes had worn a bit thin by the end the audience loved it.