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Daisy Pulls It Off

by on 29 September 2019

Honesta Quam Magna

Daisy Pulls It Off

by Denise Deegan

Teddington Theatre Club, Hampton Hill Theatre until 4th October

A Review by Celia Bard

Daisy Pulls It Off is a play that treats it audience to a feast of ‘Jolly Japes’ and ‘spiffing fun’. There are ‘hi-jinks galore’ at the Grangewood School as girls indulge in midnight feasts, hot water bottle fights, overcome cliff edge dangers, search out lost treasure – all against a backcloth of bullying and cheating, mystery and intrigue. It all falls on Daisy Meredith to save the school and save the day. The play is inspired by the adventure stories about life in boarding schools written in the early 20th century by authors such as Angela Brazil. The play’s depiction of upper class language, social and moral attitudes and norms might provide a temptation for actors to caricature the characters. These two directors and cast members do not fall into this trap, the actors totally immerse themselves in their characters and succeed in drawing the audience into the ‘ups and downs’ of this group of schoolgirls, particularly those which befall Daisy Meredith. Although we laugh at many of characters’ utterances, we were not laughing at them. The quality of the acting is as such that we do not applaud when the bully and snob, Sybil Alexandra Burlington is expelled from the school but feel a sense of relief when the expulsion is lifted after Sybil’s moment of honesty, and pleas for clemency from Daisy. The play is more a pastiche of this genre of writing, not a parody. Although the time period is 1927 some of the themes the play touches upon are still with us: class discrimination; Public versus State Education; foreign enemies of the State.

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The main setting of the play is the Grangewood Boarding School for Girls. Our heroine is Daisy Meredith, daughter of an opera singer who has fallen on hard times. The fate of Daisy’s father is unknown, presumably killed during the First World War whilst at sea. Meredith is the first pupil from an elementary school to win a scholarship to Grangewood. Many of the girls are appalled by this event, while in return Daisy, a girl with a strong moral compass, is shocked by the snobbery and venom displayed by some of the girls. She does, however, bond very quickly with poetry lover, Trixie. Together they decide to set up a secret society with the purpose of finding some hidden treasure in order to save the school and the family that own it. Alas the two girls share the dormitory with a couple of rich girls who plan to get Daisy expelled and succeed in making her life as difficult as possible. The story unfolds in an establishment in which the game of hockey plays a significant role.

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The dialogue of the majority of characters is interesting. Speech is directed to the audience when that character is introducing him/herself, an extremely helpful device with such a large cast, or continuing the narrative of the story to move the action on. It is also, of course directed to the other characters in the play.

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Daisy Meredith describes herself as a “daredevil, tomboy, possessed of a brilliant mind, exuberant, quick-witted, fond of practical jokes, honourable, honest, courageous, straight.” Ellie Greenwood, who plays Daisy, shows all these attributes in her characterisation and in her interaction with other characters, she lives the role. Just occasionally her enthusiasm got the better of her at the expense of intelligibility. Her loyal chum, Trixie Martin played by Lara Parker, is as much the ‘madcap’ as Daisy. She gives a fine performance and is just delightful to watch. Daisy’s nemesis, Sybil Burlington played by Lily Tomlinson, has the most wonderful facial expressions that aptly reflect her character which she herself describes as “conceited, beautiful, only daughter of very wealthy parents.” Sybil’s ‘chief crony and school toady’, Monica Smithers acted by Juliette Sexton, gives a great comic touch to the role without going over the top. The two of them together are mesmerising. Another significant character is Clare Beaumont, head girl and Games Captain, acted by Jenna Powell. Her telling of the tale about lost treasure to Daisy and Trixie is spell binding. Annabel Miller is a suitably stern Headmistress, comfortable with her school audience of parents, brothers and sisters and grandparents, slightly less so when dealing with the misdemeanours of her pupils, at times lacking projection. Jeremy Gill as Mr Schblowski provides a well-considered and sinister interpretation of the Geography teacher and Choir Master, succeeding in disguising his true character and motives. All actors in this production must be commended for their commitment and level of characterisation they bring to their roles, whether large or small. The History and Music teacher, Sue Bell, is a case in point. This actor does not have a word, a line to speak but throughout all of her scenes she is totally engaged in the action.

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As well as a wonderful, talented cast of actors whose overarching strength is the quality of their vocal interaction mention must be made their physicality. There are a number of incidents when the human body is at the centre of the storytelling process including the spectacular hockey match sequence and the rescue from the cliff top. The choreography of the hockey match triggered an appreciative round of spontaneous applause from the audience and the ingenuity that went into the rescue of Sybil and Monica results in real drama.

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The play’s settings move speedily from a train to the school, from the library to the dormitory, to the sports grounds, to the cliff top. These speedy scene changes are imaginatively achieved by the use of smoke, which serve to disguise the main set, a wonderfully designed interior representation by Wesley Henderson Roe of a rambling red-brick Elizabethan Mansion consisting of a wooden staircase and panelling, an upper landing, and lower Manor Hall, now the school hall, still with portraits of former members of the family hanging on walls. The smoke acts as a mist during the playing of the hockey match. Contrasting this carefully crafted choreographed movement is Trixie sitting on the window ledge, looking out on the match, and acting as commentator. The same technical device is used for the cliff top scene: a puff of smoke, a clap of thunder and ‘hey presto’ the scene has shifted from inside to an outside scene of a cliff top shrouded in mist. Wonderful!

Well devised and effective Lighting design by Patrick Troughton and Sound including some special effects by Charles Halford was equalled in standard by realistic and well fitted costumes under the meticulous eye of wardrobe mistress Mags Wrightson, all components adding to the creditability of the piece. Overall this was a highly enjoyable play provided by a fine cast, organised by two creative, talented and visionary directors, Clare Henderson Roe and Wesley Henderson Roe, and enjoyed by a lucky audience. This is a production not to be missed.

Celia Bard
September 2019

Photography by Sarah Carter

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