Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

This Daisy Delights

At RWCMD

Daisy Pulls it Off- Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama , Sherman Theatre Cardiff , April 4, 2009
At RWCMD by Daisy Pulls it Off- Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Parody is thriving. “The Thirty-Nine Steps” has crossed the Atlantic. Every Christmas Croydon’s Warehouse Theatre puts on a dashing new Dick Barton adventure. In “Boys of the Empire”, part set in colonial Iraq, Glenn Chandler has his group of spunky public school chums overcome their differences to foil a plot by dastardly foreigners. But the Mother of all retro-affectionate parodies must be “Daisy Pulls it Off.”

If ever a writer confirmed the old saying that no playwright ever makes a living but a tiny few make a killing then it must be “Daisy Pulls it Off” author Denise Deegan; two and a half years in London’s West End in the 1980’s, a national tour and productions almost every year since. Now the turn of WCMD, they put on a production which, in the language of the play, is absolutely spiffing and top hole in every way.

As the audience enters the girls of Grangewood School’s Fourth Form are in the school gym, twelve of them, overseen by Rebecca Millett’s head mistress, stern but fair. The high-spirited girls of the Fourth vault, do headstands and cartwheels, climb the wall bars, have wheelbarrow races, even form a human pyramid. And all this before the play, rather redundantly cast as a play-within-a play, has even begun.

Sarah Ovens’ Daisy Meredith, “straight in all things”, is plucky, loyal and brave, the scholarship girl underdog (but who turns out rather sickeningly to be best at everything.) The high point of her performance, literally, is delivering her lines suspended upside down in the storm scene of the second act. As her best pal, Caroline Bartleet’s bubbly Trixie Martin, with her cries of “jubilate”, captures the gawky mannerisms of over-protected upper-class gels. Laura McAlpine’s Sybil Burlington and Elin Phillips’ Monica Smithers are as thoroughly rotten and nasty as the script demands. Their joint bend of disdain at meeting the new girl is one small perfect touch in director Ellie Jones’ consistently inventive production.

Rhys Jennings, the only male in a cast of fourteen, gets to play four or five roles, with a fine but light comic touch. These go from the wandering groundsman to the mysterious Russian music teacher to Miss Waller and the school matron- yes, the school matron.

In truth the script is propelled by not a lot more than its own good nature. This is a world where the worst penalty is losing jam and cake for a week or three days’ games being cancelled. But it is carried by three strong elements. First, Denise Deegan sparks up the second act with a hockey match- the hero of the game with her last-minute winning goal can be guessed- and a life or death rescue scene.

Secondly, the cast genuinely captures the spirit of the books they are parodying and the age group they are playing. Abigail Parmenter’s Belinda manages a lovely grimace or two. With just school uniforms, white socks, pigtails, a hair band or two, the cast’s seven or eight years’ age difference falls away with ease.

Finally, Ellie Jones has given the production an almost unbroken visual flair and a stream of small jokes. Wallbars turn into cliffs, trunks become a set of stairs. If, as a script, it is not a lot more than candy floss it does have structure, pace, character, and verbal skill. As a production it has flow, energy, wit and conviction. On this one I could envisage another company delivering “Daisy…” more slickly but cannot imagine another company anywhere out-doing the WCMD for freshness, verve and indeed heart.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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