Richmond Theatre – until 3 October 2015
“Put on your navy knicks, pick up your hockey sticks – and bully-up, bully-up..” Jeepers. I had completely forgotten that ritual “bully” of stick-bashing at the start of a vicious hockey encounter. But a friend of my youth persuaded me to sneak in to this peculiar, and not unengaging, new musical on the last leg of its short tour. And there was much to see: the crazed hockeystick tap routine, the sapphic love duet in the locker room, and a barnstorming finale when the demise of the unrepentant demon headmistress caused my friend sagely to think of Don Giovanni. “I like it when the goodies win but the villain goes down defiant. And the bit with the ghost of the dead headmistress – it’s the Commendatore”.
Not quite operatic, though. Taking the musical style , dances and barmy plot together, Maureen Chadwick and Kath Gotts’ show – directed by Anna Linstrum – is best described a schoolgirl-story Salad Days for the same-sex love generation. A traditionally feminist ‘50s boarding school has been taken over by an unaccountably (till the end) fascist-retro headmistress (a vigorously strident Rosemary Ashe), who demands well-drilled wives and mothers. She opens with the best number of the lot: girls to her are “The future mothers of the future Sons of England…breeders of our leaders, strong and hearty, never arty”. She also gets a magnificent line about the dignified charity pupil Daimler (Brianna Ogunbawa) – “named no doubt after the stolen car in which her unfit mother conceived her!”.
Good Miss Austin (Sara Crowe) in grey plats and brogues resists her; two mysterious interlopers , played by Kirsty Malpass and James Meunier, the only man, turn out to be the dei ex machina of the rebellion , all the way to a truly bonkers denouement with writs plucked from bosoms , mistaken identity, and Brenda the Sneak being reformed, and doing a cartwheel to prove it.
There’s some larky dance (choreography by Richard Roe) , and odd sharp lines (“Schools without rules breed savages and socialists!”). But a less Ealing-comedy , more 21c aspect is that our heroine Susan (Stephanie Clift) is in love, beyond mere crush, with lisping Camilla, and heartbreakingly betrayed when her paramour goes straight. Via a stonkingly insane dream sequence in a an imaginary London lesbian night club, with Meunier reappearing as a baritone Marlene Dietrich, she finds another girl to love. In full-on modern, non-crush style love such as Malory Towers never (at least openly) permitted. There’s a point being made here.
box office 0844 871 7651 to Saturday