Ripping fun is promised as the girls of Grangewood School take to the stage. DAVID WHETSTONE looks at the year’s first offering from the People’s Theatre
Imagine the hilarity as the actresses of the People’s Theatre pulled on their school uniforms for Daisy Pulls It Off.
You could hazard a guess that for many of them this was a duty they had not performed for... well, a year or two at least.
It must have been a thrill for those uniforms, too. Director Kate Wilkins reveals that they have been in the People’s Theatre’s costume wardrobe since the last time the amateurs performed the play.
“We’ve got an enormous wardrobe run by a wonderful lady called Diane Edwards and although they hadn’t been used for years, they still existed.
“They needed a little bit of work for the new cast to wear them but they were absolutely fine to use.”
Credit here must also go, says Kate, to Sarah Pearson, another wardrobe person, who is “brilliant” and who found evidence of the previous Daisy Pulls It Off production – lost in the mists of time, as far as Kate is concerned.
“I’ve been in Newcastle for eight years and it hasn’t been done in that time,” she says.
Denise Deegan’s comedy, a spoof on the hearty girls’ boarding school stories that were popular throughout the last century, made its energetic appearance on the theatre scene in 1983.
After a first run in Southampton it transferred to the West End – produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber – and ran for more than 1,000 performances before going on the road for two years, generating much chortling along the way.
But will a send-up of a literary genre of a (and I’m guessing a little here) slightly bygone age pass muster today?
Well, even if the books of Angela Brazil might not be common currency among young female readers, it’s likely there are enough people familiar with Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers to make Deegan’s affectionate send-up tickle a rib or two – and the St Trinian’s films still get an airing every now and again.
Daisy Pulls It Off is set in 1927 at Grangewood School for Young Ladies. It is “the jolliest school in England” but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its fair share of class rotters, such as snobby Sybil and her toadying friend Monica.
When energetic Daisy Meredith, who is from a poor background, joins the school’s mostly wealthy pupils, she encounters much prejudice. But far from being daunted, she sets out – aided by zany pal Trixie Martin – to find the treasure supposedly hidden at the school and so save it from closure.
Does Daisy succeed? The clue’s in the title.
Kate thought it would be “great fun” to have older actresses in the parts of the girls, which is the convention with the play, and she has been impressed with the way they have risen to the challenge. “The energy levels they have to maintain are incredible.
“But we had no shortage of volunteers. A number of the people who are in it this time have been in previous productions or involved in some other way and I had people coming up to me saying, ‘I just want to be in it’.
“The whole cast is about 15 but I have created a couple of walk-on parts so I can get more girls in it.”
All have enjoyed getting to grips with the language of the play, peppered with “ripping”, “topping”, “capital” and “top hole”.
Kate, who has long experience in amateur dramatics, has directed several other productions for the People’s Theatre.
“I used to live in Surrey but I took early retirement and moved to Newcastle. I actually love it up here. I’d heard about the People’s and it is the most extraordinary place. I’d never come across anything like it.”
People who know the theatre in Jesmond will tell you that it is a very good place. Top hole, in fact.
But this is a challenging production. Can Kate, a former IT manager, pull it off? We shall see.
Daisy Pulls It Off runs from January 20-24 at the People’s Theatre, Stephenson Road, Heaton, with performances at 7.30pm. Box office: 0191 2655020 (option two) or www.peoplestheatre.co.uk
ANGELA BRAZIL (1868-1947) was one of the first to turn out schoolgirl stories, producting nearly 50 books of girls’ fiction.
Her first school story, The Fortunes of Philippa, was published in 1906 and was an instant success, although sniffy educationalists at the time considered her tales lacking in the desired moral fibre.
Brazil was prounced ‘Brazzle’.
ELINOR BRENT-DYER (1894-1969), who wrote more than 100 books including 57 in her Chalet School series, was born and educated in South Shields.
The first in the Chalet School series was called The School at the Chalet and it came out in 1925. It told of the school founded by Madge Bettany in the Austrian Alps, England being too expensive.
There the fictional Chalet School remained until the Nazis came to power, when the author moved it to Guernsey.
ENID BLYTON (1897-1968) wrote six novels set in the fictional Cornish seaside boarding school of Malory Towers, which is said to have been inspired by Benenden School, the real-life establishment which her daughter attended.
She wrote a further half-dozen books set in St Clare’s, featuring young heroines Pat and Isabel.
RONALD SEARLE (1920-2011) was the creator of St Trinian’s which probably paved the way for Denise Deegan’s Grangewood School, sending up the girls’ school environment.
He was a satirical cartoonist who published his first St Trinian’s cartoon in 1941 in the wartime magazine Lilliput. Shortly afterwards he became a prisoner of the Japanese.
Returning to St Trinian’s following the war (after which he served as an artist at the Nuremberg trials), his cartoons became darker. His girls, far from being posh and given to expressions like “topping”, were heavily armed and very, very bad.