Denise Deegan's Daisy Pulls It Off is a jolly hockey sticks tale set in the world of the girls' boarding school, much loved by readers of Enid Blyton's Malory Towers series, or of the Four Marys from the now-defunct Bunty comic. During its first West End run at the Globe Theatre (now the Gielgud) in 1983, the play won the SWET award for Comedy of the Year. And it's still a winner.
It's 1927 and Daisy Meredith (played with wide-eyed innocence and steely determination by Holly Dale Spencer) is the first girl to win a scholarship to the prestigious Grangewood School for Girls. Believing that her schoolmates will embody the school motto (Honesta Quam Magna - How Great are Noble Things), she quickly learns that some of the young ladies are determined to make her life a misery because she comes from an Elementary School and a poor background. Plucky Daisy has to overcome prejudice, and mean attempts by nasty Sybil (Suanne Braun) and her toady Monica (Norma Atallah) to portray her as an exam cheat and a thief. She is also drafted into the First XI hockey team for a big match (even though she had only learned the game from a book), and is on a quest to find the treasure hidden by Lord Beaumont that will save the school from demolition. Phew!
Thom Southerland pulls every ounce of schoolgirl verve from the excellent cast of young ladies, and the not-so-young sixth-formers Alice (Paddy Glynn) and Clare (Susan Travers). Gillian McCafferty is perky and daring as Daisy's only friend, Trixie. James Yeoburn makes an excellent mysterious Russian (and the schoolgirls' crush). But it's Adam Venus who provides the show's highlight in multiple roles as kindly and wise headmistress Miss Gibson, the harridan class teacher Miss Granville, and Mr Thompson, the gardener. It's a brilliant comic turn, reminiscent of characters from the era of the Ealing Comedies.
Music - from a single upright piano as found in school halls everywhere - is the perfectly judged accompaniment. At times Joanna Cichonska plays "silent movie music", at others she's providing backing for the school assembly or a frenetic Charleston-cum-hockey-match and it's all spot on.
Gregor Donnelly's set is simple but effective, evocative of wood-panelled and drafty old English mansion houses, with dusty books and galleries of paintings of dead ancestors. The use of a set of mobile stairs as a central feature starts off being clever but becomes a little over-used in the second half.
Daisy Pulls It Off is jolly spiffing fun! Go and see it or Matron will send you to your dorm with no tea.
- Carole Gordon