Emma Rice attributes her adaption of Malory Towers’ enormous success to the casting, and after it’s performance at Oxford Playhouse I realised she was spot on – it’s genius.
Yes, Wise Children’s take on the Enid Blyton classic is fresh, welcome and comforting as a Sunday roast, but what a great gang she has assembled.
But let’s go back. Those who watched Wise Children – the company’s stage debut of the same name – about the seedy side of vaudeville – will know that Emma specialises in a no-holds barred, giddy, colourful, in-your-face approach to life, wrapped up in an irresistibly alluring package of stagecraft, music and characters.
one pupil said she didn’t know what it was like to be a man. The other answered: “I think it’s the same, just easier and richer,” which brought the house down.
Malory Towers is no different. OK, so it depicts a bunch of boarding school girls adapting to a new term of bonding, adventures and life lessons, which some might consider a rather elitist choice of subject matter.
But throw in Emma’s gift for inclusion, contemporary issues and an innate understanding of the human condition, from teenage angst to loss, mourning, displacement, trauma, friendship and the need to be loved and recognised for who we are, and it tripped along like a pony released from it’s trap.
READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH EMMA RICE HERE: https://www.oxinabox.co.uk/malory-towers-comes-to-oxford-playhouse-with-a-modern-day-twist/
Unashamedly nostalgic, Malory Towers’ ever-growing pastiche of post-war life boasted more than a cheeky nod to BBC annunciation and proper vowels.
This was not to deter from the more serious issues it took on during the musical, from bullying and self confidence to eating issues, body awareness and anger management, addressed amidst a whirlwind of singing, dancing, laughing, tears and story-telling.
But the cast – perfect to a tee, the seven pupils picked to represent those immediately recognisable from our own school days.
Francesca Mills as Sally Hope was ironic, energetic, spontaneous and effervescent – her comedy timing perfect.
Bill Robinson – aka The Right Honourable Wilhelmina, played by Vinnie Heaven – tomboy, gender fluid, non-binary, trans and brilliant at depicting this individual, wild card, one-off eccentric. And what a voice.
As the plot picked up tempo, the show really coming into its own in the second half, there were some hilarious moments.
When rehearsing for the school play one girl said she didn’t know what it was like to be a man. The other answered: “I would think it’s the same, just easier and richer,” which brought the house down.
Rebecca Collingwood who played the beastly (see I’m doing it now) Gwendoline – who is quite as nasty as one can be – is offered not revenge but kindness and understanding in response to her horrible behaviour. Through her posturing one can see why Emma classes this as her ‘happy Lord Of The Flies’ because the Malory Towers pupils have freedom and autonomy but still opt for community, friendship and fun.
A valid lesson indeed in these testing times. But forget messages, because if you fancy an uplifting, fun, comedic, all-singing, all dancing, family-friendly night out then this is for you.
On until Saturday at Oxford Playhouse. 01865 305305 or oxfordplayhouse.com