Denise Deegan’s witty pastiche on the books of Angela Brazil started life at the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton in 1983, before a long West End run produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Although often performed by schools, part of the fun, as with John Godber’s Teechers, is the opportunity for adults to play children, in this case, posh schoolgirls.
Wildcard Productions was founded by local actor Sue Wylie, known for her appearances with Jakes Ladder Theatre Company and in Dorchester community plays, as the most recent of these, Drummer Hodge, drew to a close, and some of the cast discussed the idea of doing something a little lighter. Consequently, the cast for Daisy is drawn from some of the finest actors in the locality as the key schoolgirls. Knowing the play well, and finding such reliable and talented North Dorset based actors as Mark and Tess Hebditch in supporting roles, I was expecting a thoroughly entertaining evening.
I was not disappointed: Sue, as director and in the title role, led by example, and had ensured that every one of her cast inhabited their role, each with their own idiosyncrasies and foibles, from Monica’s lisp and Sybil’s vanity to Trixie’s over-imaginative mind and Dora’s annoying fiddling. There were wonderful touches of physical theatre, with every “girl” working as a team to carry us through a rail journey, a hockey final and the wonderfully melodramatic cliff rescue, and some creative direction, from staff and pupils sitting amongst us to empty picture frames being held up at the front of the audience to symbolise family portraits.
The set is simple, yet functional, the costumes and props are as expected, with a few modern intrusions, which might have led the company to set the story in a modern Grangewood, only flashing back to 1927 for the play within, and thus covering any modern torches, hot water bottles and hair, but this is a minor criticism in what was otherwise a wonderful evening of nostalgia and fun, including a few additions to the script to reference the Comic Strip’s take on the Famous Five, the French accents of Allo Allo, and the title of the play, all of which added to the comedy and took nothing away from the story.
This was a slick, tightly-directed production, drawing the audience in from the very beginning and taking us on the exciting ride of Daisy’s first term at the school, leaving us smiling, feeling “bucked” and not at all “muffed”. Every single one of the schoolgirls acted their long black socks off, and are a credit to their school, especially Sue as Daisy, Katie Gallego as super-enthusiastic Trixie, Emma Hill as the scheming yet beautiful Sybil, Stella Hollis as the lisping Monica and Liz Duke as the admirable Claire. The staff were equally competent, from Tess Hebditch as Mrs Granville, playing live piano throughout as well as teaching, Carole Redhouse as Miss Gibson, completely in control of her school, Mark Hebditch as Mr Scoblowski, authoritative yet suitably enigmatic, and Kevin Morris as the bumbling Mr Thompson with his big part in the denouement.
This is the first show from this new company, and I, along with most of the audience from their reaction at the end, hope it is the first of many equally successful Wildcard Productions.