Daisy Pulls It Off

by Denise Deegan; dir David Hankins

Loft Theatre, Leamington Spa

6 – 16 July 2011

Daisy Pulls It Off is a parody of old-style boarding school novels for girls; the kind of thing that has evolved into Harry Potter stories and the like. Unlike the ruthless send-up that is St Trinian’s, this is rather affectionate towards its roots; it is a world of wholesomeness, sportiness, jolly japes and, above all, enthusiasm.

The mood is set from the moment you arrive and find the cast in the auditorium preparing to put on a school play – the ‘teachers’ chatting together and keeping an eye on the ‘girls’ who are flittering around excitedly, whilst the music teacher (Lynda de Long) vigorously conducts the off-stage school band and mugs at the audience. At ‘curtain up’ time, everyone rushes off into the wings as the School Head (Helen Ashbourne) welcomes the audience and introduces the play.

The story centres around new girl Daisy (Rachel Cooper) at the fictional Grangewood School for Girls – the school’s first scholarship pupil. On arrival, she is placed in a dorm with marvellously effervescent Trixie (Katharine Bayley), who immediately becomes her best friend, and toffee-nosed Sybil (Katherine Crawshaw) and toadying Monica (Amy Haynes), who immediately set about trying to get this upstart common girl removed from ‘their’ school. Daisy is the typical ebullient heroine of this kind of story, but Sybil’s sabotage ensures that she gets a name for being a cheat and a sneak. Through various escapades, including helping the school win the hockey final, rescuing Sybil and Monica from a cliff, finding the long-lost school treasure, and being at death’s door herself, Daisy ‘pulls it off’ and all ends happily.

That’s the basic story. What you actually get from this all-female cast is a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours’ entertainment. The pace is good, the timing and ensemble work is excellent and the bubbling enthusiasm of the girls permeates all and really does put you into that storybook world. At the same time, it maintains the feel of being a school play: the stage is mostly bare and the girls become various pieces of furniture as needed; the adult roles are played by the ‘teachers’, complete with comical false moustaches where necessary; and the space in front of the stage is used to good effect for the dramatic cliff-top rescue and for the caretaker’s (Elaine Freeborn) regular comical sojourns across the auditorium. And a lot of fun is to be had from things as simple as the class sitting down together or the school bell being rung by Hilda (Morinsola Duntoye). There are a number of debuts here, but you’d be hard-pressed to identify which ones without reading the programme. It’s all well put together and played with such enjoyment; much credit is due to the director.

Daisy Pulls It Off does exactly what it says on the tin. No deep meaning and very few surprises, but a thorough immersion in that fantasy world of gymslips, hockey sticks and being a good egg. Not only Daisy, but the whole show ‘pulls it off’.

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