The halcyon days of school and the opportunities it afforded her mother has led Wise Children artistic director Emma Rice to adapt Enid Blyton’s classic boarding school story, Malory Towers, into a stage musical. The show premieres this summer, opening at The Passenger Shed in Bristol, before touring.
Here Rice talks about her new show which she has adapted and is directing. “I’ve always been drawn to the years that followed the Second World War. It’s a time that feels close enough to touch, as I vividly remember my grandparents and how the war affected their lives.
“My mum’s parents – poor and largely uneducated – decided that their children would have access to all the things that they hadn’t. I don’t know how they managed it on a railway worker’s pay, but my mother was sent to a remote grammar school in Dorset: Lord Digby’s School for Girls. Whilst not a boarding school, Lord Digby’s was an extraordinary place of learning that changed my mother’s, and by extension my own, life.
“The tendrils of passion and education that Lord Digby’s stood for reach out across 60 years and more. They reached out over my inner city comprehensive education and have shaped my own beliefs and choices to this day.
“My adaptation of Malory Towers is dedicated to the generation of women who taught in schools in that period. With lives shaped by the savagery of two wars, these teachers devoted themselves to the education and nurture of other women. It is also for the two generations of men that died in those same wars, leaving us with the freedom to lead meaningful, safe and empowered lives.
“And it is for Clement Attlee and his Labour government of 1945 who looked into the face of evil and chose to do what was right. These people changed the political landscape in their focus on care, compassion and the common good.
“Malory Towers was written at the heart of this political revolution, and embodies a kindness, hope and love of life that knocks my socks off. ‘Long live our appetites and may our shadows never grow less!’ the girls cry.
“My mother wrote to her teachers at Lord Digby’s until they died and is still friends with many of the girls she met there. And when I see my Mum, born into the poorest of rural backgrounds, enjoying Dickens and Almodovar and speaking French to her childhood pen-friend, I am stopped in my tracks.
“She went on to dedicate her life to the NHS and the helping of others while never losing her appetite for life, culture and hope. I salute her, and I cheer the education that threw this mind and soul into the air and said, “be a woman that the world can lean on”.
“So that’s why I am making Malory Towers, with gratitude, hope and sheer pleasure! I call it my ‘Happy Lord of the Flies’ and it is joyfully radical to its bones.
“Imagine a world where (left to their own devices), people choose kindness. Imagine a world where difference is respected and arguments resolved with thought and care. Imagine a world that chooses community, friendship and fun. Now that’s a world I want to live in and, at Malory Towers, you can!”
Malory Towers, co-produced by York Theatre Royal in association with Bristol Old Vic, stars Rebecca Collingwood, Mirabelle Gremaud, Vinnie Heaven, Izuka Hoyle, Renée Lamb, Francesca Mills and Rose Shalloo.
Malory Towers plays at The Passenger Shed from July 19-August 18 before touring to Cambridge Arts Theatre (Sept 5-7); York Theatre Royal (Sept 10-14); Exeter Northcott (Sept 17-21); HOME Manchester (Sept 24-28); Oxford Playhouse (Oct 1-5).
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