BWW Review: MALORY TOWERS, York Theatre Royal
After a sparkling debut last year with an adaptation of Angela Carter's Wise Children, Emma Rice's company of the same name returns for its second outing with another literary classic - Malory Towers.
Enid Blyton's rip-roaring tale follows protagonist Darrell Rivers, played in this production by Izuka Hoyle, as she embarks on her time at the eponymous all-girls Cornish boarding school, Malory Towers. Rivers and her colourful classmates navigate the turbulence of their first year with hockey sticks in hand and kindness in their hearts.
A stunning ensemble cast make sure that this productions more than matches up to the joyful spirit of both the source material and the company's first production. Hoyle is strong as the feisty but good-hearted Rivers, and Rebecca Collingwood is the perfect villain as the haughty but troubled Gwendoline Lacey.
Rose Shalloo's delightfully nasal turn as Mary Lou Atkinson strikes the perfect balance between comedic and sympathetic. Francesca Mills gives a standout performance as prim and proper Sally Hope, managing to be both belly-laugh hilarious and completely endearing with her clipped accent and sweetly pointed looks to the audience.
Music is at the heart of this production, with composer Ian Ross bringing together a mixture of original songs and well-known tunes that are expertly performed by the cast, accompanied by pianist Stephanie Hockley (who deserves an special mention for a masterful bit of kazoo playing early on).
The music is characterised by tight, layered harmonies that are expertly performed by a cast who all have wonderfully unique voices in their own right but combine perfectly. Alistair David's lively choreography is similarly well executed, from full-blown dance routines to many excellent moments of physical comedy.
Lez Brotherston's set of mobile chairs and dorm beds combined with sound and video designer Simon Baker's animated backdrop are immersive without compromising on versatility, and perfectly evocative of the play's post-war setting.
It's worth noting that the modern framing of the piece - the opening and closing scenes take place in a present-day school - fall a little flat, but is thankfully brief and the point being made is well-meaning and not laboured.
Rice has once again crafted a theatrical experience that delights in its own theatricality. An outstanding and brilliantly diverse cast are at the heart of what makes Malory Towers something special; unabashedly joyful, at times silly, at times serious, but always with its tongue firmly in its cheek. Jolly good fun!
Malory Towers at York Theatre Royal until 14 September, then continues on tour