Charing Cross Theatre, London – until 20 June 2018
I’ve said before that Guildford School of Acting turns out the best ‘triple threats’: those performers who sing, dance and act with equal and effortless skill. Now it has a new actor-musician course adding in virtuoso playing of an instrument – violin (mostly) but also a harp and a double bass. What next, an electrical qualification so they can rig their own lights?
With such an array of talent on offer, it’s a mystery why tutors chose as a graduate showcase this thinly-written early 80s spoof of 1920s girls’ school fiction long eclipsed by St Trinian’s, Harry Potter, and – set in the same period with more serious impact currently at the Donmar – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
The company throws itself into the jolly hockey sticks theme, bouncing onstage limbs akimbo to announce ‘I’m Jacinta, plucky but madcap vice-captain of tennis’ or similar.
It’s just as well they repeat it ad nauseam, because you couldn’t tell the differentiation of the characters from the costumes or, in some cases, the acting. This parody is both uniformly and relentlessly 1950s Enid Blyton, and nobody – least of all author Denise Deegan – seems to have researched how differently schoolgirls behaved in the inter-war years.
The plot is facile with hidden treasure, a shifty Russian, a lurking gardener and a long-lost father, and the play’s subtextual moralising about accepting scholarship girls into public school is lost in a welter of bullying overlooked by unsupportive staff, yet dismissed and tied up with a single apology.
The musical material grafted on to the original play is bizarre – mostly snatches of hymns far more ancient than modern, and a relentless earworm of the Welsh anthem ‘All Through The Night‘. The inclusion of ‘Spread a Little Happiness’ from Vivian Ellis’s much funnier and more actually musical 1920s parody Mr Cinders made me think they should have revived that instead.
The best scene is in the second act where the cast play hockey and musical instruments at the same time and the whole stage really comes to life and shows the strength of their multiple talents. Unfortunately, it also reinforces how dull much of the first half is.
The few chaps in the company are saddled with thankless cardboard stereotypes and only a couple of the girls really get to exercise their character work and solo vocals.
I couldn’t immediately spot a potential Strallen in the cast, but Marina Papadopoulous is very effective in the title role, and as her bespectacled geeky sidekick Trixie, Katy Ellis is the standout performer.
Does Daisy pull it off? Yes, but the question is – was it worth pulling in the first place?