It’s not all child’s play as mischief reigns supreme.
Co-produced by York Theatre Royal in association with Bristol Old Vic, the company of Wise Children are fierce in their non-stop energy as Emma Rice skilfully delivers a spirited adaptation of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers that is toe-tappingly infectious to all.
Rice is building a reputation for adapting classic literature – first Angela Carter’s Wise Children – and condensing Enid Blyton’s six novel series Malory Towers into under two hours results in a high-spirited musical of mischief and music.
For those unfamiliar with Blyton’s work the story follows seven schoolgirls through their mischievous goings-on during their first year at the coastal boarding school for girls – Malory Towers.
Beginning on a contemporary pop number, Rice sets a clear tone that this musical is for the now. However, under her direction the fictive world of Malory Towers retains its 1920s charm with swinging tunes, tinkles on the piano and a chorus of school hymns – set to original scores and performed in crisp, harmonised vocals by the seven-strong company.
Under Rice’s direction, the girls’ battle to find their own identities frequently using music, or in the case of Alicia Johns (Renée Johns) – comedy – to express their emotions and ultimately themselves.
Casting non-binary trans performer Vinnie Heaven as the Right Honourable Wilhelmina ‘Bill’ Robinson lifts the musical from its 1920s roots and firmly places it into the here and now of contemporary notions of gender and identity.
Each goes on their own personal journey, finishing the year and performance having discovered a part of their own identity and a comradeship in each other.
Rice’s production does at times stray too far into the darker consequences of children’s actions, as the impact of Gwendoline Lacey’s (Rebecca Collingwood) bullish behaviour on Francesca Mills’ timid Sally Hope pervades.
The knock-knocks of simple childish humour brought by Alicia Jones ensures these moments are swiftly forgotten and foot tapping music becomes the anecdote.
This adaptation provides an endearing reminder to adults of the fierce resistance and their stubborn, if not sometimes misplaced, determination to be heard.
Malory Towers at HOME in Manchester is both a nostalgic adventure for adults and a powerful message for the older children on being yourself.
Malory Towers is showing at HOME, Manchester until September 28. You can buy tickets here.