Association of Community Theatre


by Denise Deegan

directed by Eleanor Jolley

Burnley Garrick


This is Burnley Garrick's revival of Denise Deegan's ripping yarn, which conjures up a Malory Towers and an Angela Brazil-style world of midnight feasts, morning dips, dormitory fights, nail-biting hockey matches and class bullies, as well as hidden treasure, a daring cliff-top rescue, a mysterious Russian émigré and a long-lost father.


It's 1927, and Daisy Meredith (Rachel Bailey) is the poor-but-clever elementary school pupil who thinks it would be absolutely topping to learn Latin and Greek at Grangewood School for Young Ladies – "the jolliest school in England". But when she wins a scholarship and arrives there, she faces the fearful ­machinations of the class rotters, the snobby Sybil Burlington (Sophie Greenwood) and her toadying friend Monica (Hannah Rigby). We know they are rotters because they don't like games.


Eleanor Jolley has gathered together a cast of very believable girls to provide the Grangewood School Drama Festival with a jolly romp, Daisy Pulls it Off.


It is possibly easy to forget that we are watching a play within a play, and that the main story is about Grangewood School putting on a play as pure entertainment.  And entertaining the whole production proved to be.


Instead of the normal voice over announcements about mobile phones and photography, Jane Claire as the French Mistress, gave a very humorous twist on the message.


The music, from the theatre doors opening to curtain up, was played by the school pianist (Joe Winkley) who was also the pianist throughout the presentation. I loved the description in the programme which said, "School Pianist” - I don't get a name.  Just "School Pianist".  Not even a definite article.  Not even a photograph.  Talent?  They just don’t recognise it.”  One might also add, “They just don’t know a good thing when they see (or hear) one”.


The evening started with the headmistress of the school, Miss Gibson, played by Lynne Atkinson, outlining the background to the school and that we were about to watch the evening entertainment put together by the Fourth form, “with a little help from members of the staff.”


This gave the introduction to the characters within the play starting off with Daisy Meredith.  Rachel Bailey, as the heroine, was the focus of the drama, and her strong characterisation of the scholarship girl was well honed. This was an excellent performance from Rachel, who just gets better and better with each role she plays.


Gradually we are introduced to the other members of the upper fourth.  Travelling by train to Grangewood in an adjoining carriage, we were introduced to Sybil Burlington (Sophie Greenwood) Vice Captain of the Upper Fourth and best all round sportswoman of the  form, and Belinda Mathieson, as Upper Fourth captain, played by Caeragh McCloy. These were two very confident and strong performances creating two very believable characters.


The next girl to board the train at the next stop was Clare Beaumont, played by Liz Rowell.  Liz played the role as befitting the Head Girl  and Sports Captain of Grangewood.  A thoroughly decent young lady, Liz, as Clare, was the calming influence on events as they unfolded.


On arrival at the school, the first person with whom Daisy comes into contact is Trixie Martin who, in her own words is “a madcap and poet of the Upper Fourth”. Becky Wright really brought this character to life.  I have seen Becky play many different roles and each time she really does become the character she is playing.  This was a superb performance from this very talented actress.


After a brief background on the possibility of hidden treasure at Grangewood, we then meet Monica, the school toady and chief crony of Sybil Burlington.  What a delightful performance Hannah Rigby gave of this less than sympathetic character. It was an excellent pairing of Sybil and Monica by Sophie and Hannah.  The inter-play between them, as a double act, and with the other characters around them was convincing.


Next we met Alice Fitzpatrick, School Prefect and deputy sports captain. A strong characterisation from Sian Maymond made this into an authentic personality and a thoroughly “good egg”.


Throughout the course of the play we were introduced to another form member, Dora Johnston played by Sam Antill.

As the story of the hockey match unfolded, we then met a member of the second form, who had been co-opted to the team.  Winnie Irving, played by Grace Mumby was very assured and precocious, ideal personality for the somewhat snobbish Grangewood.  Grace was a very plausible second-former.


We had been introduced to the staff members, but they were also players within the play – mainly as themselves – but having a slightly different perspective as teachers.  Two of the staff members were Anne Chadwick, as Miss Granville, as the firm but fair mistress of the Upper Fourth, and Mr Scoblowski, the enigmatic Russian music teacher, played by James Bateman. Two experienced actors lent their expertise to the unfolding narrative.


The final character to be introduced was whistling Mr. Thompson, played by Simon Bailey, who, despite having no more than about ten cues, really became the focus for the unfolding story.


It was very good to see all these very experienced performers playing the very small roles and helping in the creation of this excellent ensemble piece.


The stage at the ACE is not overly large but the clever set gave the cast a lot of room to move.  The doors to the various locations were on small trucks, manoeuvred by the stage manager, Karin van Waardenburg and team.  The desks were simple two-dimensional objects carried on and off by the girls themselves.  There was a staircase USR leading to the portrait gallery which then gave a double layer to the stage.  This created not only the portrait gallery but also the cliff leading down to the beach.


The scene showing the rescue of Sybil and Monica was excellent and the lighting of this scene particularly was first class as it created the illusion of stormy, wave battered, cliff face.  Congratulations, Richard I’Anson, on a superb lighting plot, for this scene and the rest of the play.


Eleanor Jolley, as play director, didn’t miss a trick in bringing this public girls’ school to life.


The costumes were excellent as were the properties.  The whole backstage team is to be congratulated on a first rate presentation.