BWW Review: MALORY TOWERS, Passenger Shed
At first glance, Enid Blyton's Malory Towers seems an odd choice for the second outing of Emma Rice's Wise Children theatre company. A genteel tale of a privileged all girls boarding school in Cornwall with mild peril and even milder themes doesn't seem like classic Rice.
Perhaps conscious of this, Rice immediately thrusts us into a flimsy conceit of a modern school with its archetypal bully stealing a copy of Blyton's book from a mild-mannered girl. Thus sets the idea for the evening: that regardless of time period, the types of characters found at school remain the same. We're then whisked away to the post-war setting as girls are packed away into the train for their first term.
There is a great sense of fun to be found here; the slick choreography from Alistair David and the whimsical compositions from Ian Ross fit together like Cornish clotted cream and jam. The cast too are notably strong singers and bring great vibrancy to the songs, despite the stifling heat inside the converted Passenger Shed venue.
There is some of Rice's usual mischief here - when the girls decide to put on school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the producer loudly exclaims that that you shouldn't change Shakespeare and that if he'd have wanted it, he would've written it in the script. A barely disguised barb at her former employees at the Globe.
There are also moments that have great promise. Francesca Mills is a delight as Sally Hope, who has a naivety and innocence captured by a line that brings the house down about the difference between men and women. Izuka Hoyle is an assured Darrell Rivers and Mirabelle Gremaud gets another chance to show her superlative gymnastics.
Where the show succeeds most is in showing the empathy and warmth of the girls, with the diverse cast updating Blyton's characters with ease.
Overall, though, Malory Towers feels lightweight. It lacks some of the magic that has permeated Rice's work through the years. There isn't the ingenuity of storytelling or the playfulness that was found in last year's debut. If this were a school report, it would surely read: 'B+ - a very good effort'.
Photo credit: Steve Tanner