EMMA Rice’s Enid Blyton adaptation has taken over the former Passenger Shed at Temple Meads station for the summer, filling the cavernous space with fun, frolics and friendship.
The Malory Towers books, written between 1946 and 1951, interwove with her other favourite series, the Famous Five (1942 to 1963) and the Secret Seven (1949 to 1963). Centering on the adventures of a group of girls at a Cornish private school, the books are full of moral lessons and fun, elements for which Emma Rice is famous.
Lez Brotherson’s clever set, which will tour after the run in Bristol, hides dormitory beds and classroom desks in its body, as well as brilliantly inventive sound and video designs by Simon Baker, bringing outdoor action into the show.
The performers, many of them skilled musicians as well as actors, bring the story to energetic life for a family audience. The plucky but sometimes angry Darrell is charismatically played by Izaak Hoyle, with Rose Shalloon as the timid Mary Lou. Mirabelle Grimaud is the harp-playing acrobatic Irene, and Renee Lamb the constantly joking Alicia, with Rebecca Collingwood as the nastily troubled Gwen.
Francesca Mills is a delightfully dogmatic and sensible Sally Hope.
Director Rice cast for diversity and inclusively as well as versatile talent and the right spirit for her own style of working. So why, having cast non binary trans performer Vinnie Heaven as Wilhelmina “Bill” Robinson, did she allow the character to dress and act like a teenage boy – albeit one with no hormonal interest in female dorm-mates. At a Malory Towers type school, gels wore gymslips, uniform was rigidly enforced – no exceptions. The point of a tomboyish and confused teenager would have been far better made with exterior uniformity.
Malory Towers is vibrant, full of song, dance, affection, aspirations, courage and fun. It’s a great show for the family, and a nice backwards nod to a time when educational establishments took the place of families for so many striving youngsters.
Production photographs by Steve Tanner
The Malory Towers tour stops at Exeter Northcott from 17th to 21st September.