DENISE Deegan’s pastiche of life in a private girls school in the 1920s has been a smash hit ever since it opened at the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton in 1983, and this year it has hardly been off the stage in our region.
Dorset’s fourth production of the year, at the Shelley Theatre in Boscombe, is the final show of 2015 for the performing arts students from Arts University Bournemouth. It’s a world away from their two recent shows, the scarifying Festen and a devised and gritty Bleak House.
In many ways the crumbling charm of the Shelley is ideally suited to the show, and director Helen Watts and her cast made the most of the atmosphere, organising a tuck shop in the foyer and a dashing, giggling gaggle of girls mingling with the audience in their gym-slips before it all started.
But with the venue’s character come drawbacks which those producing plays must address. It is either bitterly cold (last year blankets were handed out to the audience) or the audibility of the actors is seriously compromised by an intrusively noisy heating system.
And for those sitting behind the arch which has extended the auditorium backwards, there is an even greater problem of hearing what’s going on. That is particular difficulty in a play like Daisy, whose cast is mostly female, and most playing young teenage girls whose high-pitched voices were often inaudible. Slowing down might help.
The cast brilliantly captured the clipped BBC English required for the show as they told the story of adventure and pluck, as Daisy Meredith wins her scholarship and joins the exclusive Grangewood School.
There are two set-piece scenes in Deegan’s hilarious play – the hockey match and the midnight clifftop rescue. The latter was particularly well done.
Outstanding in this ensemble was Madeleine Marshall as the thoroughly nasty Sybil Burlington, as she weighed and relished her dastardly plots to discredit poor Daisy. Elizabeth Benbow also accurately nailed the spirit of the piece as the devoted deputy head girl.
Ratidzo Masunda’s statuesque Miss Gibson and Greta James’s conflicted Miss Granville kept the girls in order, and Dominic Vallance made the very most of his last minute cameo as Mr Thompson, all diffident 20s charm.
The audience could very easily have been convinced that they were at their daughters’ schools open day in the melee that surrounded the Shelley, and I hope for them that they can sort out the sound problems.