Malory Towers is a much-loved series of books by Enid Blyton published from 1946 – 1951, set in a grand boarding school in Cornwall which show that there was life before Harry Potter.
Emma Rice’s adaptation is a love letter to the generation of women who taught in post war Britain and helped shaped the lives of the young people in their charge. Rice calls this piece her ‘happy Lord of the Flies’. And you can see why, as it features adventure, bullying and young people vying to be leader of the pack.
Six girls take the train to their new school, a boarding school and they look forward to their new lives. For many of them this will be their new family as there does not seem to be much love or attention given to them at home.
Gwendoline Lacey (Rebecca Collingwood) arrives with a diva attitude and a sense of entitlement, Irene Dupont (Mirabelle Gremaud) is an artist, Darrell Rivers (Izuka Hoyle) is headstrong and will fight for the disenfranchised, Alicia Johns (Renee Lamb) jokes her way through life, Sally Hope (Francesca Mills) is a bossy boots with morals and Mary Lou Atkinson (Rose Shalloo) is a frightened little rabbit, longing to be braver.
An empty bed lies in waiting and in comes Bill Robinson (Vinnie Heaven) and horse Thunder to save the day and change the girls’ perspectives.
The staff here are not as majestic as those at Hogwarts. The focus here is on the pupils, with Miss Grayling the headmistress represented by a silhouette and voiced by the brilliant Sheila Hancock in a pre-recording.
Emma Rice’s production is interesting. On the one hand it is warmly old fashioned, sticking to the morals of the books with disagreements and arguments dealt with over a cup of hot chocolate, a discussion and a tin of biscuits. But it also has contemporary references and additions to the plot which mean that children used to Spotify and Alexa will be well served too.
What you are left with is a zany, funny and delightfully dotty production which is beautifully cast.
Francesca Mills has knack for slapstick comedy and her clipped Brief Encounter accent brings a smile to your face throughout. Rebecca Collingwood imbues her character with inner pain so that her histrionics always seem justified, Izuka Hoyle is both in control and vulnerable, Renee Lamb delivers jokes with real ease and mischief, Rose Shalloo portrays her character’s fear with genuine heart, Mirabelle Gremaud has a singing voice which could melt white chocolate and Vinnie Heaven is a breath of fresh of air as a character with a horse and a head full of positivity.
Lez Brotherston’s set and costume bring to life this grand and opulent looking school and a sense that when the lights go out, mischief takes over. Simon Baker’s sound and video design brings a contemporary feel and gives Matilda a run for its money and Beth Carter and Stuart Mitchell’s animation is beautifully realised.
The niceness may grate at times as everything is always resolved with a neat bow and a kiss on a cheek. But it certainly beats the toxicity you see on both sides in Parliament and on Twitter at the moment .
Malory Towers offers you jolly hockey sticks style japes, loads of LOL moments, the utmost respect for the original books and a real sense of escapism with upbeat messages throughout and it’s most welcome.
Malory Towers is at HOME until 28th September.