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Malory Towers at Home: Review

Home » Reviews » Malory Towers at Home: Review

Receiving a programme presented as a school exercise book truly set the scene for Emma Rice’s second production with her Wise Children theatre company.

Malory Towers. Photo by Steve Tanner
Malory Towers. Photo by Steve Tanner

As we file into the auditorium, we are minded that we are joining a school assembly for the next two hours. The play opens on a typical scene of pupils waiting outside the head’s office. The laboured and somewhat irrelevant opening finally transports us to Paddington Station where we and the ‘Malory Girls’ meet for the first time. As the train begins its route to Cornwall, we too begin our journey, back in time, to Enid Blyton’s, Malory Towers. We are soon comfortable with our fellow travellers, enthusiastic and quite naughty, Darrell Rivers (Izuka Hoyle) the serious and kind-hearted, Sally (Francesca Mills) nervous and faint-hearted, Mary Lou (Rose Shalloo) the musical Mirabelle Gremaud (Irene Dupont) and spoilt girl, Gwendoline Lacey ((Rebecca Collinwood) who insists on brushing her hair 100 times and knowing without a doubt that she should be in a finishing school in Switzerland.

Malory Towers. Photo by Steve Tanner
Malory Towers. Photo by Steve Tanner

As Malory Towers boarding school comes into view, chatterbox and class comic, Alicia (Renee Lamb) declares: “It’s not beautiful but it is Majestic.”
The train trip has also carried us back in time to just after World War II and as we alight into this post war era we can feel the optimism born out of dark times and heartache. This an opportunity for the girls to bond together in the hope of sustaining each other as a family.

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      The girls are welcomed by the voice of Headteacher, Miss Grayling (Sheila Hancock), powerful and commanding but with an implied devotion both to the girls and to the school.

      Lez Brotherston’s set deserves to be top of the class and receive a school merit for its versatility – flowing from movable desks to dormitory, to cliff top. We marvel as the school floor becomes a swimming pool and where a French lesson is transformed into a Parisian nightclub. The whole artistic team are in a class of their own, with crayon effect projections so the back screen enables us to not only to see Malory Towers, but Thunder the horse; characters jumping off a diving board, and of course it takes us seamlessly from disasters to triumphs all along the way.

      Malory Towers. Photo by Steve Tanner
      Malory Towers. Photo by Steve Tanner

      The missing classmate, Bill Robinson (Vinnie Heaven) finally arrives, making a long-awaited addition to the dorm and becoming the ‘head of cool’ by not taking the train but arriving on horseback.

      The cast convey Rice’s bouncing musical, complete with backflips, harp playing and superb powerful voices providing us with outstanding renditions of nostalgic songs like ‘Mr Sandman’ and ‘Sing Sing Sing’ and the use of the term ‘Sent to Coventry’. Presumably a large proportion of the audience were hearing these songs for the first time.

      Malory Towers. Photo by Steve Tanner
      Malory Towers. Photo by Steve Tanner

      The cast never let us go, like them we are part of the Malory Family where they join us in our seats and chivvy us out into the foyer during the interval to entertain us with a rip-roaring song.

      Combining story lines from the six books, which convey how mean teenage girls can be to one another – poor Mary Lou has her head held under water by nasty Gwendoline – however simultaneously reflecting the closeness and commitment to one another, as we find when bully Gwendoline receives tragic news from home.
      When the class decide on ‘A Midsomer’s Night’s Dream’ as their school play, we see kind-hearted Sally become bossy as she takes on the role as producer, with wry comments delivered with a faux naivety, and Enid Blyton’s moral messages abound. The author’s messages of the post war need for women not just to be kind but to be strong, hold a timely resonance, affirmed in Malory Tower’s Hymn ‘Women that the world can lean on.’

      Malory Towers. Photo by Steve Tanner
      Malory Towers. Photo by Steve Tanner

      Emma Rice refers to Malory Towers series as “radical to its bones”, and whilst this was not evident on stage, it certainly made for an energetic, contemporary musical production.

      Malory Towers is at Home, Manchester from 24 to 28 September 2019.

      Written by
      Lorraine Worsley-Carter

      A resident of Salford Quays, Lorraine Worsley Carter received her MBE for Exceptional Services to Community and Broadcasting in 1998 and became a Deputy Lieutenant of Greater Manchester in 2008. She is Senior Partner of Countess Publicists. Her love of travel takes her near and far.

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      Written by Lorraine Worsley-Carter