An already relatively small performance space is made all the more cluttered by the presence of musical instruments on stage in this production of Daisy Pulls It Off – though I never properly established what it was the title character, Daisy Meredith (Marina Papadopoulos, a vocal powerhouse) was meant to have pulled off from whom. The storyline is a little predictable, and is, in effect, a school play, presented by the ‘Upper Fourth’ (in today’s school currency, Year 9) of the fictional Grangewood School, a boarding school for girls (a quick online search will reveal several Grangewood Schools out there, but that is entirely coincidental).
The framework of a school play poses a small problem, albeit a ‘first world’ one: how successful is this production? If it comes across as a school play, then surely it has achieved its purpose. But if it comes across as a school play, am I sat in the audience making allowances for performances that are not necessarily up to scratch? Are certain characters being portrayed in a way that heightens the authenticity of the ‘school play’?
The quaintness of the show gradually gives way to an increasing sense that this is not so much The Play That Goes Wrong as the play that goes bonkers. By modern standards (the play is set in 1927) what is considered bad behaviour by the likes of Miss Gibson (Madeleine Wilshire) hardly constitutes the sort of thing that would warrant a detention. But at least the pupils are spared corporal punishment, even if verbal humiliation appears to be a common thing at Grangewood. The play refuses to take itself too seriously, sending itself up by highlighting the absurdity of elements of the storyline.
The folk song ‘All Through The Night’ was never whistled by Mr Thompson (Jacob Leeson) – as per the script – but is variously hummed and played on the guitar, before being sung. The reason(s) why there was so much repetition of the same song by the same character satisfied Daisy and her best school friend Trixie Martin (Katy Ellis) but were not, to the best of my recollection, properly explained to the audience. But this does become one of those storylines that ends up so convoluted that it is best just to go with the flow and enjoy the ride.
In order to maintain a healthy pace, almost as much is described than is dramatized. The sound was not always finely balanced: at times dialogue was competing with the live music. Elsewhere, the use of dramatic music in scenes of apparent intensity or danger was parodied brilliantly. But the show’s antagonists, Sybil Burlington (Persia Babayan-Taylor) and her sidekick Monica Smithers (Gemma Evans) are not dastardly or beastly enough to be properly loathed – even Daisy, the target of their bullying, pleads with head girl Clare Beaumont (Lara Lewis) to speak with the school authorities in order that Sybil is not expelled.
There’s a panto-esque energy in characters like Mr Scoblowski (Mark Fitzsimmons), and Monsieur Pierre (Harry Edwin), respectively Russian and French members of staff. A running gag about Daisy and Trixie keeping their (school) secret away from “the Bolsheviks” proves uncannily topical given the current state of international diplomatic relations. Some inventive use of violin bows as hockey sticks was, if anything, amusing. How did the bows survive a hockey match? Choreography, dear reader, choreography.
Yes, it’s indisputably an adult cast playing school pupils. It’s also not to everyone’s taste – some in the audience chortled heartily while others spent much of the evening stony-faced. In the end, it’s a lot of fun, with very good comic timing. Absolutely scrummy, to quote the script.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Fresh from a sell-out run at the Ivy Theatre, the first graduating year of Guildford School of Acting’s BA Actor-Musician programme are to bring their unique production of Daisy Pulls it Off, full of quirky characters, splendid scrapes and fabulous friends, to delight West End audiences.
A riotous and affectionate pastiche of a classic girls’ school story, Daisy Pulls it Off was a huge West End hit running for 1,180 performances and won the Olivier Award and Drama Theatre Award for Best Comedy when first produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1983.
1927 – Daisy Meredith is the first scholarship girl taken from an elementary school to be granted access to the hallowed halls of the prestigious Grangewood School for Young Ladies. Enthusiastic and plucky to the last, Daisy finds herself struggling against unspeakable snobs Sybil Burlington and Monica Smithers, who concoct ghastly schemes to get her expelled. Ably assisted by her new best friend, the madcap Trixie Martin, Daisy finds herself caught up in a series of irresistible adventures including a search for the missing “Beaumont Treasure”. Can Daisy work out the mysterious clues and save the school from closure? What secrets does the enigmatic Mr Scoblowski hide?
Cast: Marina Papadopoulos, Lia Todd, Gemma Evans, Lara Lewis, Persia Babayan-Taylor, Katy Ellis, Madeline Wilshire, Sophie Moores, Harry Edwin, Hanna Khogali, Mark Fitzsimmons, Jacob Leeson.
Creative team: Director Nicholas Scrivens. Composer Niall Bailey. Musical Staging Phyllida Crowley-Smith.
GSA in the West End
DAISY PULLS IT OFF
by Denise Deegan
directed by Nicholas Scrivens
Charing Cross Theatre