This review of Daisy Pulls It Off first appeared in Offbeat News, our bi-monthly newsletter.
If you were a youngster in the 50s or 60s, or even earlier, what were you reading then? If you were a boy, probably Jennings at School to be followed by Frank Richards’ Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School. If you were a girl, almost certainly Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers before progressing to the much loved school stories of Angela Brazil when you were a little older.
Set in boarding schools where bright, middle class youngsters were far removed from the baleful influence of parents, these stories of derring do in a fantasy world captured the imagination of countless numbers of young readers.
But how would the audiences of today - and even more the actors of today - respond to a pastiche of a genre they might never have encountered themselves?
Daisy Pulls It Off is such a glorious parody of these books that it can sweep you up and transport you to this other world without ever letting you take it seriously. The challenge is to set the right tone so we laugh with it rather than at it. Would this production justify the hype that preceded it and the "House Full" notice by the door?
Full of anticipation, we were in our places in good time to hear the Headmistress of Grangewood School address us firmly over the PA system on how we were expected to conduct ourselves. Soon the pupils in their blue and red uniforms, followed by the staff in their gowns, filed in before us for assembly. The set, composed of symmetrical flights of steps leading to a central gallery, effectively suggested the panelled hall of a grand house now home to the school, and the resulting tableau made a most effective opening to what was essentially a company production: a team of actors bringing to life the tight-knit community of a boarding school.
At the centre of the action is the new girl, the eponymous Daisy. Daisy is not only new but moreover the first scholarship girl at a very private school! Hope Doyle Smith gave us a stunning performance as the charmingly ingenuous yet indefatigable heroine who moves effortlessly in and out of the unfolding drama to tell the audience her feelings.
Julia Ryan as Trixie, Daisy’s best friend, was tremendously and breathlessly vibrant as her accomplice in the various japes and scrapes that ensued. This play needs pace to succeed and this duo at its heart brought just the right verve to the production.
An invariable feature of such stories is the senior girl idolised by the juniors. Loretta Freeman as Clare Beaumont, Head Girl, was convincing as just such a role model and how she knew it!
Emma Muir as Alice Fitzpatrick, Clare’s second in command, gave us a delightfully Irish variation of the jolly hockeysticks characters that the school clearly produced in great numbers.
Naomi Meaden and Hanna Kemsley-Gilbert oozed unctuousness and malevolence as the class rotters; Sarah Gennoe as the good girl and Joanna Manser as the one in the back row who never pays attention completed Daisy’s Upper Fourth class.
Throughout the action the primary focus is on the gels but there were some engaging cameo roles from the adult staff. In particular, Rosamund Barnes was totally convincing as the Head while Paul Russell as Daisy’s long-lost father conveyed real emotion when the mood of the play changed briefly at the denouement.
For me an indication of the outstanding success of the evening was the rapport between those on stage and those in the audience. The slick production leading to the uproarious scene on the cliffs at the end kept us thoroughly involved and when we all sang the school song so lustily at the end, we really felt we had been to a party. Daisy had indeed pulled it off!
Photographs by Steve Beeston.