By Denise Deegan
Director – Thom Southerland
Daisy Meredith struggles to find acceptance in the snobby confines of Grangewood School for Girls.
A comedy pastiche of school life in the 1920s.
DAISY PULLS IT OFF played Upstairs at the Gatehouse
12th March – 14th April 2013
Produced by arrangement with the Really Useful Group Limited
Norma Atallah – Monica Smithers
Feature film credits include: Les Miserables; Irini in Mamma Mia; The Kid; Mrs Grimm in The Story Of…; and Yentl directed by Barbra Streisand. TV credits include: Rome (HBO); The Friday Night Project (Channel 4); Genie In The House (Nickleodeon); Chucklevision; Judge John Deed; The Biz; Practice Makes Perfect; The Spy series (all BBC); and Hale and Pace (LWT).
Norma was a member of the group Cats UK with their hit record ‘Luton Airport’. Last year Norma performed at the Café Canal Theatre in the world premiere of The London Revue. Theatre credits include: Nine (Donmar); Les Miserables (Palace Theatre); Cats (New London); Matador (Queens); Pirates of Penzance (Drury Lane); Oklahoma (Palace); Evita (Prince Edward); Girlfriends (Playhouse); a regional tour of Richard Harris’ Stepping Out; The Rocky Horror Show (Hungary and Venice); in Repertory Theatre The Canterville Ghost; Fiddler On The Roof; Privates on Parade; and Absurd Person Singular.
Suanne Braun – Sybil Burlington
Originally from South Africa, Suanne continued her acting career in Los Angeles. Television highlights include: Prowler directed by Peter Bogdanovich; Whose Line Is It Anyway?; Just Shoot Me; Wings; FX-The Series; The West Wing City Live; Babylon 5; and in Stargate SG-1 (recurring role). Theatre credits include: Private Lives; Offbeat Broadway; The Secret Lives of Henry And Alice; Lend Me A Tenor; Bedside Manners; Things We Do For Love; A Slice Of Saturday Night; and Nunsense. UK theatre credits include: Onassis (Novello); Cabaret (UK tour); Mamma Mia (West End); Vice-The Revenger’s Tragedy (Soho); Bernada Alba (Union); Easy To Love (BAC); The Carnival of the Animals (rehearsed reading, Riverside Studio). Television credits include: No Signal (FX and Sky One); Revealing Mr. Maugham (cinematic release); Starhyke (Sky Showcase); and a guest lead in Witch is Which? (Nickelodeon). Suanne won the Funny Bones Newcomer Award in 2002 and hopes to bring her one woman show (which she has been working on for about 10 years) to the stage later this year. Or next year. Or the year after that.
Joanna Chichonska – Musical Director / Composer / School Pianist
Joanna studied Music at Durham University and trained on the Musical Direction course at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, graduating in August 2011.
Credits include: Victor/Victoria (Southwark Playhouse, AMD); The Thing About Men (Landor); The Glorious Ones (Landor); Guys and Dolls (Upstairs at the Gatehouse); Bernarda Alba (Union Theatre, AMD); and News Revue (Canal Cafe Theatre). Joanna has also worked for Urdang, AMTA, NYMT and Stagecoach.
Holly Dale Spencer – Daisy Meredith
Theatre credits include: Lois Lane/Bianca in Kiss Me Kate (The Old Vic); First Cover Polly in Crazy For You (Novello); Betty Blue Eyes (Novello); Circus Girl in Oliver! (Drury Lane); Aggie Wainright in The Grapes of Wrath (Chichester Festival Theatre); Mary Poppins (International Tour); High Society (UK Tour); Anything Goes (UK Tour); Dolly in Ha’penny Bridge (Point Theatre, Dublin); Quick Step with Caroline O’Connor (Lille Opera House); and Children Will Listen (Drury Lane). Workshops: Ruth in It’s a Wonderful Life (Riverside Studios). TV: The Alan Titchmarsh Show; Children In Need; and The Oliviers 2012. Film: Les Miserables.
Alex Gilbert – Winnie / Dora / Mother
Training: Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.
Theatre includes: Macbeth (Young Shakespeare Company); Hamlet (Northern Broadsides); What Every Woman Knows (Finborough Theatre); It Felt Empty When The Heart Went… (Spellbound Productions); The Importance of Being Earnest (Floor to Ceiling); Romeo and Juliet (Tucked In Productions); Debris, Remarkable Trees and Who’s There (Juncture Productions).
TV includes: Acting up (Talkback Thames).
Paddy Glynn – Alex Fitzpatrick
Paddy spent her formative years in Tinahely, Co. Wicklow, moving to England to train as a dancer. She began her career at the London Palladium, then after seasons in Las Vegas and Disneyland, decided ‘enough with the feathers and sequins!’ and turned to acting – travelling and working in London, Paris, New Zealand and America.
As an audio reader, Paddy has 48 unabridged novels to her credit but reckons her best credits to be son Mat – a writer and performer and daughter Bimla – an events producer.
Recently Paddy was French as Queen Margaret in Richard III and Russian in Sofka (Bookshop Theatre) but returns to her Irish roots to make her debut Upstairs at the Gatehouse.
Other credits include: Once Upon A Mattress (Union Theatre); and Mrs O’Connor in Holby City (BBC); and she has just finished shooting an episode of Doctors for the BBC, playing Sinead McFalun.
Ann Marcuson – Belinda Mathieson
Training: Webber Douglas
Theatre includes: Treasure Island (Dukes Lancaster); Bloodhound (Northern Stage); Perfect Strangers, winner of the Stratford New Writing Festival Final; The Glass Slipper (Northern Stage); The Family Reunion (Donmar Warehouse); Little Wolf’s Book of Badness (Hampstead Theatre); Needle (Soho Theatre); Sweet Dreams (Sphinx Theatre); Hard Love (Hampstead Theatre); Strange Love (Young Vic); Brassed Off (York Theatre Royal); I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls,Times ‘Play’ Award (Tricycle/Newbury Watermill); Pinocchio (Regent’s Park); Twelth Night (Theatre By The Lake); Little Shop of Horrors (Basingstoke Haymarket); Night Swimming (Nuffield); Great Gatsby (New End); Diary of Anne Frank (Harrogate); Over Ruled (King’s Head).
Film: Shark (Met Film); Intrusion (Channel 4 pilot). Television: Family Affairs (Freemantle); and The Bookworm (BBC).
Gillian McCafferty – Trixie Martin
Theatre includes: Richard III, Hamlet and The Canterbury Tales (REL); The Diary of Anne Frank (Broadway Theatre); State Fair (Trafalgar Studios); Absent Friends, Confusions, Green Grass and The Pajama Game (Union Theatre); The Guid Sisters (RADA); Schoolgirls in Uniform (BAC); The Sash My Father Wore and Ladies of the Corridor (Finborough).
TV includes: The Escape Artist (BBC); Silent Witness (BBC); Pie in The Sky (BBC); and Eastenders (BBC).
Film includes: The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies).
Olivia O’Shea – Rosie / Maidmoiselle
Olivia began her career at the Gaiety Theatre in the Isle of Man playing Roxie in Chicago and Adelaide in Guys and Dolls. Since graduating from Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts she has played Monica in Me and Juliet (Finborough); Cathy in The Last Five Years (Karamel Club); Soloist in Hello Jerry! (Landor); a Nazi in The Diary of Anne Frank (Upstairs at the Gatehouse); Avalina in The Piper (Finborough); and The Empress in Aladdin! (Hertford Theatre). Television credits include: Jo Brand’s Kiss Me Quick for BBC4. Most recently she has been workshopping the role of Regina for a new musical version of the movie Mean Girls.
Susan Travers – Clare Beaumont
Television credits include: two series of Van der Valk; The Saint; and The Avengers.
Film credits include: The Abominable Dr Phibes; The Statue; Sons and Lovers; and Peeping Tom.
Theatre credits include: State Fair (Trafalgar Studios); Molly Brown, Hello Jerry (The Landor); The Merchant of Venice, The Children’s Hour, Cabaret, The Pajama Game (The Union); Bring Me Sunshine (Simon Stephens, Edinburgh Festival); The Rivals (Drayton Park Theatre); and The Importance of Being Earnest (Wimbledon).
Adam Venus – Miss Gibson / Miss Granville / Mr Thompson
Adam trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). Theatre credits include: Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, directed by Sarah Esdaile (West Yorkshire Playhouse); George Orwell’s 1984, directed by Matthew Dunster (Manchester Royal Exchange); Tom Stoppard’s Rough Crossing (Vienna English Theatre); Stephen Sondheim’s Company, directed by Joe Fredricks (Southwark Playhouse); Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun, directed by Richard Jones (Young Vic Theatre); William Shakespeare’s Henry VI Parts I and II, directed by Stuart McGill (Kenilworth Castle/Dream Factory); Philip Ridley’s Feathers in the Snow, directed by David Mercatali (Southwark Playhouse); Carnivale, directed by Anthony Wilkinson (Teatro San Gallo); MacDeath, directed by Robert McWhir (Landor Theatre); and You Beautiful Ewe, directed by Tammy Mendhelson (Roundhouse).
James Yeoburn – Dr Scoblowski
Training: London School of Musical Theatre
Credits whilst training: Kyle in Mr. Christmas; Richard in Richard II; Marius in scenes from Les Miserables.
Theatre credits include: Title role in Aladdin (Creation Theatre Company, Oxford); Paul Berthalet in Carnival (Bridewell Theatre); Ensemble in Carousel (Broadway Theatre); La Bohème/ Tosca and Carmen (Bristol Hippodrome); Ensemble/Young Russian in Fiddler on the Roof (Northcott Theatre); Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar (Spa Theatre); and Alan in Product of an Upbringing (Northcott Theatre).
Concerts/Recordings include: Dress Circle Benefit Concert (Her Majesty’s Theatre); Cantabile Christmas Concert (St Johns, Smith Square); and Tony in West Side Story (The Venue).
Thom Southerland – Director
Theatre credits includes: Victor/Victoria, Mack & Mabel (Southwark Playhouse – nominated, Off West End Award for Best Director and Best Musical Production 2013); Merrily We Roll Along (GSMD); Noël & Gertie (Cockpit); Parade (Southwark Playhouse – longlisted, Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Musical 2011, nominated, whatsonstage.com Award for Best Musical Revival 2012, Off West End Award for Best Musical Production 2012); Hello, Jerry! – a musical revue celebrating the work of Jerry Herman (Landor); as director in residence at the Union: the European premiere of I Sing!, Divorce Me Darling!, Annie Get Your Gun (Time Out Critics’ Choice), The Pajama Game (Time Out & Evening Standard Critics’ Choice) and was founder of the all-male productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore and The Mikado; as director in residence at the Broadway Studio Theatre, Catford: Bent by Martin Sherman, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, The UK Premiere of The Diary of Anne Frank (transfer to Upstairs at the Gatehouse), Rent, Mack & Mabel, The Full Monty (transfer to The New Players), Hobson’s Choice, Singin’ in the Rain, the UK Premiere of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Me and Juliet (Best Director, Off West End Awards), Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel.
Productions for Stage Taylor include: The Unsinkable Molly Brown (Landor); Call Me Madam, Calamity Jane (Upstairs at the Gatehouse), and the UK Premiere of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair (Finborough and Trafalgar Studios).
Workshops: Persephone (Rosemary Branch); and Carnival of the Animals (Riverside Studios).
Gregor Donnelly – Designer
Gregor was born in Edinburgh and trained in Set and Costume Design on the Motley Theatre Design Course, London.
Designs include: The Mikado, Trial by Jury, The Zoo (Rosemary Branch Theatre); La Bohème (Thaxted Theatre); A Dinner Engagement, Comedy on the Bridge (King’s Head Theatre); Susanna’s Secret (King’s Head Theatre); La Bohème (revival design for OperaUpClose); Barber of Seville (OperaUpClose tour); Night Music (Guildhall School of Music and Drama); The Hot Mikado and Oliver! (Churchill Theatre, Edinburgh); Jekyll & Hyde (St Brides Centre); The Rink (Edinburgh Festival); Honk (Boroughmuir Theatre); the Ivor Novello musical Perchance to Dream (Finborough Theatre); The Devil Always Gets The Best Tunes (Drill Hall); Acorn Antiques (Associate Designer, Churchill Theatre, Edinburgh); The World Goes Round (Canal Cafe Theatre); Gay’s the Word (Jermyn Street Theatre); Someone to Blame (King’s Head Theatre); Costume Designer on Arthur Miller’s The American Clock, Sutton Vane’s Outward Bound; the sell out production of Drama at Inish directed by Fidelis Morgan starring Celia Imrie and Paul O’Grady all for the Finborough Theatre; and DirtyDating.Com (Stockport Plaza and Epstein Theatre, Liverpool).
Future designs include: Making Dickie Happy (Tristan Bates Theatre) which is currently running until 30 March; Les Misérables (ESMS Edinburgh).
Ben M Roger – Lighting Designer
Recent designs include: CHESS (Union Theatre); The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Live! (UK Tour); Lord of The Dance (Middle East); Steel Pier (Union); 13 Days (Arcola); Tanika’s Journey (Southwark Playhouse); and The Last Maharaja (Wyndhams).
Ben has designed large scale musical productions internationally including an arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar (Scandinavia); and outdoor arena presentations of The Wizard of Oz; Cats; Oliver!; West Side Story; The Sound of Music; Evita; Chicago; Grease; and Fame in Cyprus and the Middle East.
Other designs include: The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Arts Theatre); The Last 5 Years (Tabard); Noise Ensemble (UK and International tours); Make Me A Song (Charing Cross); OperaBabes – Renaissance (UK tour); Children of Eden – Gala Concert (Prince of Wales); Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Heaven and Too2Much); Red Hot Baroque (UK, Moscow and Bermuda); Tick, Tick, Boom! (Bridewell); Las Vegas Fantasy (on tour in Taiwan); Jack and the Beanstalk (His Majesty’s, Aberdeen); The Rat Pack (Liverpool Summer Pops); Fine Bone China (Clore Studio, Royal Opera House); Courtenay (Canterbury Marlowe); and Vision of Lear (Linbury, Royal Opera House).
In 2009 Ben was the production designer for the Opening Ceremony of the Small Nations Games in Cyprus. Prior to this he worked for Cirque du Soleil contributing the video content and lighting programming for their show ZED (Tokyo).
Live music includes the recently completed Music Hall in Dubai as well as concerts for Duran Duran, Jose Carreras, Alkistis Protopsalti, Mario Frangoulis, Stavros Mikalakakos & Valando Tryfonos.
Forthcoming projects include: Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Dubai); and the premiere UK tour of Ready Steady Cook – Live.
Elizabeth Patrick – Stage Manager
Elizabeth trained at The Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (ALRA).
Theatre includes: Arden of Faversham (Rose Theatre Bankside); Mysterious Skin (Edinburgh and Dublin Fringe Festival); Two; 1916 the Musical; Jest End (Leicester Square Theatre); Streets Ahead (indigO2); Bewtixt! (Trafalgar Studios); The Changeling (Southwark Playhouse); After The Turn (Courtyard Theatre); Mack and Mabel, Victor/Victoria (Southwark Playhouse); Persephone (Rosemary Branch Theatre); and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Arcola Theatre).
Bessie Carter & Devrim Karabulut – Assistant Stage Managers
Mitzi de Margery – Photgrapher
Ovation – Producers
Carole Gordon, WhatsOnStage.com
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.
Honour Bayes, Time Out
Written in 1982, Denise Deegan’s 1920s private school parody remains a popular choice for revival, though her affectionate send-up of ‘poshos’ fails to satisfy today’s voracious satirical spirit.
But – jubilate! – this reincarnation sees fringe director of the moment Thom Southerland just about pull it off with a slick and imaginative production of a dated play.
Scholarship girl Daisy Meredith (Holly Dale Spencer) strives to get into posh ‘gals’ school Grangewood. Being impossibly bright, she makes the grade only to be met by snobbery and suspicion from her privileged peers. Daisy must prove them all wrong… oh, and find some lost treasure to save the school.
Though chiming with our modern appetite for period pieces, Deegan’s play is, nonetheless, inescapably two dimensional. Supposedly written and performed by members of an actual fourth year, the play within a play format should excuse this lazy simplicity, but doesn’t.
Still, it’s not as though these cartoon characters aren’t enjoyable in Southerland’s jolly, song-enhanced production. While initially looking more shocked than jubilant, Dale Spencer – fresh from the Old Vic’s ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ – brings just enough edge to temper Daisy’s annoying perfection. She and Gillian McCafferty as the super supportive Trixie have a naturally chummy rhythm.
Amid a spirited cast, Adam Venus’s quivering Miss Granville provides rich comedic accompaniment. But it is Norma Atallah as snooty Monica Smithers who wins top prize with an array of conniving looks and witchy high-pitched giggles that are positively Machiavellian.
Time Out ***
Jamie Chapman Dixon, West End Frame
Ovation Productions have done it again! Daisy Pulls It Off is a quintessentially British piece of theatre which does not fail to impress. Upstairs at the Gatehouse is a very quaint and lovely space and as I took my seat I felt as if I was sat in a school assembly hall. As the lights go up, a singing lesson commences led by James Yeoburn. From the names on the trophy plaque to the English dictionary on the bookshelf, the set design is marvellous with incredible attention to detail.
Set in an all girls private school in the heart of England in 1927, Daisy Pulls It Off features a play within a play. The show tells the tale of new girl, Daisy Meredith (an elementary school student who has been awarded a scholarship) and her fight to prove that she deserves her place at Grangewood school as much as the young (and sometimes old) girls who also attend the school.
The casting is sheer genius. While some of the cast are in their twenties and others are in their eighties, they all unite to play students alongside one another. The comic timing was played upon wonderfully by the cast and the play features beautiful direction from Thom Southerland.
I felt the first half dragged on at times. However, luckily the second act was a lot stronger than the first and I would have liked to have seen equal strength in the first act. As I rifled through the programme I noticed that each cast member has a picture printed of them as a child which is such a thoughtful touch.
The set was simplistic yet engaging. A stand out performance comes from Adam Venus who hysterically portrays three contrasting characters. Stand out performances also come from Holly Dale Spencer as Daisy and Gillian Mccafferty as Trixie. Both give outstanding, highly realistic performances.
Daisy Pulls It Off is a lovely piece of theatre and takes you on a journey back to a time in Britain where everyone always said their pleases and thank you’s. I would definitely recommend catching it whilst you still can.
Aline Waites, Ham & High
Edward Iliffe, Bargain Theatre
Set in the heart of the English countryside, Grangewood School for Girls is a top school that prides itself on an outstanding reputation, which students and teachers alike fear will be destroyed by the admission of a new scholarship student Daisy Meredith (Holly Dale Spencer). Furiously protecting the pride of the school Sybil Burlington (Suanne Braun) sets about plotting Daisy’s downfall. Meanwhile, Daisy is befriended by Trixy Martin (Gillian McCafferty) who alerts Daisy of lost treasure within the walls of the school. The pair set out on a mission to find the treasure whilst keeping out of trouble from Sibyl, what but hilarity could ensue?!
Enthused with some genius comic performances this twelve strong cast deliver every step of the way, whether it be in manoeuvring designer Gregor Donnelly’s outstanding multi-functioning set or singing with gusto and comic timing this is a marvellous cast. Adam Venus is outstanding as Miss Gibson, has the audience in fits of laughter and is duly applauded for some fantastic nuances and one liners. Venus’ performance is enough to warrant a second visit to Highgate. Wonderful performances are also delivered by Holly Dale Spencer as the well meaning, wide-eyed Daisy and Suanne Braun, who plays the simply frightful Sibyl.
Director Thom Southerland’s vibrant production is imaginatively staged, making effective use of Donnelly’s scenic design and Ben M Roger’s lighting, including shadow puppetry.
Of course without a delightful and witty book by Denise Deegan, even a production so beautifully executed would be nothing. Thankfully the script is a corker, full of pastiche, laugh out loud one-liners yet also accompanied by more subtle humour. Although this may not be exactly an intellectual comedy there is great intelligence in this remarkable piece.
On the whole there isn’t much that can be faulted with Ovation’s slick production, only that it left me wanting more! A return visit to Daisy and her Grangewood chums would not go a miss. Daisy Pulls it Off is a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of 1920s public school life that ultimately reminds us that “there is no shame in being poor”
Emily Goldthorpe – One Stop Arts
Does she?: Daisy Pulls it Off at Upstairs at the Gatehouse
Ovation Theatre Company presents Denise Deegan’s play Daisy Pulls It Off at Upstairs at the Gatehouse. A jolly good tale set in 1927 about school day adventures and hockey stick wars – it will leave you shouting “jubilate” on the train journey home.
When a play begins with mischievous schoolgirls (played by adult women dressed in green school uniform) singing a familiar hymn at school assembly, you have a very strong feeling of what to expect – not to take anything you are about to watch too seriously. You’re instantly transported back to those days of reading Enid Blyton and dreaming of dangerous escapades and ‘spiffing’ adventures. Ovation’s production of Denise Deegan’s play Daisy Pulls It Off does not disperses this nostalgic mist in any way, shape or form.
The year is 1927 and poor but clever Daisy Meridith (Holly Dale Spencer) has just been awarded the first scholarship to the ever-so-prestigious Grangewood Boarding School for Girls. Instantly we’re introduced to Daisy’s innocence with a monologue about her naïve expectations of boarding school – the wonderful people she’ll meet and all of the achievements she’ll accomplish. The overprivileged girls of Grangewood introduce themselves – each reciting a brief overview of their character to the audience before they begin any action in the story. This paints a rather stereotypical world; character depth and internal turmoil are not what this play is about but then who cares, it’s very apparent from the beginning that this is a coming-of-age story, hosting plenty of school-driven antics. Things are not as Daisy had predicted at Grangewood and a string of rather beastly events cause Daisy to doubt her high opinions of the school and the girls she once wanted to call friends. However, with the help of her new friend, Trixie Martin (Gillian McCafferty), they manage to overcome the school bully, Sybil Berlington (Suanne Brawn), solve mysteries and find hidden treasure along the way.
Thom Southerland’s directing is neat and fast paced. The intimate space is maximised, as the use of props is slick and at times ingenious. The cast have been well placed, each character exuding the whimsical nature of adolescence, this being particularly entertaining when watching the more mature ladies (how rude I’d be to guess their age) portray the young girls with as much energy and innocence as this youthfully written play demands. Holly Dale Spencer plays Daisy with the purity and virtue you would expect from a bright, overly sweet-natured girl – almost like a Princess from a Charles Perrault fairy tale. Gillian McCafferty brings a wonderfully cheeky energy to the Princesses sidekick, Trixie. Norma Atallah plays a hilariously weedy and vulnerable Monica Smithers, the partner in crime to Sybil Berlington, wickedly played by Suanne Brawn. The highlight of the show belonged to the performance of Adam Venus (Miss Gibson/Miss Granville/Mr Thompson). The hilarity he brings portraying both female teachers never wavers, and his comic timing flows effortlessly.
Joanna Cichonska plays a silent-movie-like piano score throughout the whole performance, pure theatre gold when it’s a rarity for any live music to feature in this technological age. Melancholic when appropriate and upbeat during faster-paced scenes, the score adds an endearing quality to the already quaint tone provided by the text of the play.
With no offensive content for children and high doses of tongue-in-cheek humour for the old theatregoers, Daisy Pulls if Off is a gloriously funny play for all. Ovation Theatre Company have sprinkled youthful energy, stirred in copious amounts of clever stagecraft to create a satisfying and enjoyable production. There are moments when the clipped English accent grates and the simple plots veer toward the predictable but once relaxed into, Daisy Pulls if Off offers a wholesome and light-hearted comedy, which will have you shouting “jubilate” on the train journey home.
Richard Osley, Camden New Journal
William Russell, Reviews Gate
The girls of the Chalet School will love this staging of Denise Deegan’s glorious spoof of Elinor Brent-Dyer’s books, some 60 of them in total. Fans of the works of Angela Brazil, that other girls’ school story writer, will feel the same. It is a world of madcap girls, snobbish rich ones, poor ones on scholarships, senior girls of noble demeanour to admire, jolly hockey sticks, midnight feasts, and schoolmistresses who demand respect. Boys don’t feature.
The play, comedy of the year in 1983, has been skilfully directed by Thom Southerland in a handsome setting by Ben M Rogers which catches the spirit of such establishments perfectly. The casting is a joy since the gels are all played by actresses whose schooldays are, to be honest, somewhat in the past, for some longer in the past than others.
There is much pleasure to be had from a wrinkly in a gym slip uttering Deegan’s lines. Adam Venus is terrific as the headmistress Miss Gibson, a glorious blue-stocking with an immaculate perm who reigns supreme, although his turn as dragon form-mistress Miss Granville is perhaps a shade too strident. But his third appearance – not in drag – is a revelation.
As Daisy, the scholarship girl sent to Grangewood School for Girls – motto ‘Honesta quam Magna’ – Holly Dale Spencer, all sparkling dentures and long blond locks, is just right and as her madcap chum Trixie, up for any “stunt” going, from treasure hunts to hot water bottle fights, Gillian McCafferty matches her. But all the girls are good, especially Norma Atallah as Monica the obligatory sneak and Suanne Braun as Sybil the rich girl who does not with to be contaminated by contact with a scholarship person but turns out to be a good sort in the end.
The time is 1927 – Brent-Dyer started her books in 1925 – and maybe things in the world of girls’ schools have changed since then, but possibly not, other than today they probably get to indulge in “casual hob knobbing with boys.” One for all Brazil nuts you might say.
Rachael Getzels, Ham & High
Role reversal as actresses in 60s and 70s play boarding school girls in Daisy Pulls It Off at Gatehouse
A witty adaptation of Daisy Pulls it Off at a theatre in Highgate has cast women in their 60s and 70s as school girls, while 20-year-old actors play their teachers.
The play, which opened on March 12 at Upstairs at the Gatehouse has a 73-year-old actress cast as head girl to a misbehaving gaggle of students at a 1920s boarding school, also played by elder women.
Meanwhile, their 20-year-old teachers are laying down the law as the elder ladies run riot.
Director Thom Sutherland, said his unique casting decision gives the traditional play a further comedy spin, without departing from the original script which was intended as a parody on wholesome adventure stories of girls at boarding schools in that era.
He said: “I had seen the play many times and it always had girls who were 19 or 20 playing 13-year-olds, so I thought, why not spread that a bit further and bring out the comedy?
“So the oldest girls at the school are the oldest ladies in the cast, the fifth formers are in their 50s and so on.
“At the start, there was the initial, ‘is this going to work?’ but I was lucky to be working with such a talented cast.”
He added: “The play has a satirical edge to it and I thought we could heighten that with the ages of the girls. The audience, when watching the girls played by older ladies, even though of course they’re not from the 1920s, might really get the sense that this is an era that we don’t really have anymore.”
Norma Attalah, who is her mid-50s and plays 14-year-old Monica Smithers said that gallivanting on stage as a mischievous schoolgirl and giving her character “appalling” table manners, bought back to her school days and was a chance to indulge her inner Peter Pan.
She said: “I enjoyed every single moment of it.
“I was always the one who got picked up in school, and then suddenly, I was playing someone who was a trouble maker. “It took a lot of commitment, energy and insight – just reminding myself what snitches are like and pushing yourself into it without thinking too much.
“It was like bringing out the Peter Pan in each individual.”
She added: “I think it’s fantastic that women of my age and older can play parts against their age, that we’re allowed to explore those characters and say, ‘we’re here.’”
To make the role convincing, Mr Sutherland insisted that the women did not change their voices but instead used dynamic acting to communicate their characters’ youth.
He explained: “To play a schoolgirl is about having energy and enthusiasm.
It’s not about acting childlike or being babyish.
“The women bring that charm to it.
“In the first 10 minutes the audience might be saying, ‘oh my god, what is this?’ but then you get into it. “Adults and children go through the same emotions and difficulties in life, and it allows everyone to identify with the play.”