Jolly hockey sticks - Daisy Pulls it Off is back in the West End! If that sentence sounds fun to you, then maybe the prospect of two and a half hours worth of sustained sentiments like that may entice you to the Lyric.
Previously transported from the Grangewood School for Young Ladies (whose annual school play this ostensibly is) by way of Southampton's Nuffield Theatre in 1983, Daisy became the unlikely but not unlikeable winner of the Society of West End Theatre Award (the previous name for the Oliviers) for Best Comedy. It has now returned to Shaftesbury Avenue, then as now under the patronage of Andrew Lloyd Webber, who has also provided the tune for the school song under the acronym, Beryl Waddle-Browne.
Clearly, there is something in its Jeeves-like all-English sensibility of class comedy and consciousness that appeals to the composer of shows that have, except for Lloyd Webber's biggest failure By Jeeves, transcended those boundaries; but it has to be admitted, too, that there's a very narrowly English public school humour to Daisy that is eventually limiting, not to say exhausting.
Denise Deegan - whose only West End play this has been in a career that began when she was just seven years old and has otherwise kept her in the regions - obviously struck it lucky in attracting Lloyd Webber's attentions first time round, and this time has even seen him dragging up as a school mistress to help publicise its revival. I would have preferred to have been spared that spectacle, and also, frankly, this strenuously over-produced, stridently too-eager-to-please revival.
While there's certainly comic mileage to be had from its corniest of girls' adventure plots, as Daisy Meredith - an elementary schoolgirl who wins a scholarship to a posh public girls school - has to overcome class prejudice in a journey towards acceptance, it's all earnestly overdone and far too unsubtle in David Gilmore's production which encourages almost all of its company to perform as cartoon caricatures.
In the circumstances, there's not much for an appealing collection of gym-slipped young actresses to do except try to keep up the relentless momentum of a frequently feverish plot. Hannah Yelland's bright blonde Daisy maintains her simpering goodness throughout, with Katherine Heath (last seen in the title role of the RSC's Alice in Wonderland disaster last year) as her closest ally, Trixie Martin. There's enjoyable opposition from the marvellous Anna Francolini as Monica Smithers and Jane Mark as Sybil Burlington, determined to plot Daisy's downfall.
I kept being reminded of Harry Potter in Daisy's portrait of an underdog winning through in the rigorous class system of an English public school setting, but though Deegan's play came first, how much more intriguing and mysterious is the world conjured by JK Rowling. This production, on the other hand, which keeps striving for camp, ends up merely crass.
- Mark Shenton