DAISY PULLS IT OFF by Denise Deegan
Kingston Bagpuize Drama Group
Southmoor Village Hall, Draycott Road, Southmoor, Kingston Bagpuize, OX13 5BY
19-21 April 2018
This was one of those well known shows that, funnily enough, I'd never had the chance to go and see. So I was looking forward to the occasion. Daisy Pulls It Off was directed by Neil Browning in his first directing role for the Kingston Bagpuize Drama Group and was blessed with a mainly young cast. I say 'blessed' because not all groups can call on performers in their teens in sufficient numbers. That KBDG can do so, probably says something rather good about the esprit d'accord of the group.
The story revolves around the character of Daisy Meredith (Rebecca Bellis), who wins a scholarship place at the exclusive Grangewood School for Young Ladies. On her arrival, she impresses staff and many pupils alike with her diligence and abilities, but there is snobbishness, jealousy and resentment abroad, particularly in the shape of Sybil Burlington (Andrea Spencer). Sybil and her evil sidekick Monica Smithers (a pleasingly brooding Abi Bellis) plot Daisy's downfall with false accusations of cheating, lying and sneakery. Plucky little Daisy overcomes it all and helps discover some hidden treasure to ensure the school's financial stability to boot. Oh, and she is reunited with her long lost father as well.
When the play was first premiered in the 1980s it was very much as a parody of those 'jolly hockey sticks' girls' adventure yarns from the 1920s and 1930s. Forty years on and the perspective has modified slightly. Now it can been seen, at least partly, as an elegy for a lost world – one which was still tantalisingly just... just within reach in the eighties, but no longer so. A culture that sends itself up is by no means entirely out of love with itself, but does not recognise perhaps just how fragile that culture really is.
Neil Browning's production re-used the same basic set for all scenes, rearranging the furniture and props as necessary, and subdividing the stage into different rooms – a perfectly good strategy. The one new element introduced in a couple of scenes was a row of large ancestral portraits flown in from above and used to good comic effect when Daisy and her best chum Trixie Martin (Abbie Hale) posed as said ancestors to avoid detection by music master Mr Scoblowski (Mike Lacey). However, Ian Ashby's lighting design could, I feel, have made a bit more of this arrangement. The school sanatorium (up stage), the library (downstage left), the school hall (whole stage), the headmistress's office (downstage right), and so on, could each have had more differentiated lighting set-ups.
The production made good use of the space in what was a small venue. This started well with Miss Gibson the Headmistress's entrance. Paula Eastwood delivered a wonderfully effusive, semi-improvised interaction with audience members, whom she took for pupils' parents, stopping to exchange pleasantries as she walked through the audience towards the stage. Later in the show, a few scenes took place off-stage at the front of the auditorium and the main stage area was, as I've hinted, fully used.
The predominantly young cast turned in an enjoyable performance, playing the scenes and the jokes straight rather than milking them. We had lots of 'jolly hockey sticks' type characterisation but without going over the top. The whole 'school' feel was enhanced by the hymns sung at morning assembly that punctuated the show (accompanied on keyboard by Jenny Charlton).
Rebecca Bellis was suitably stoical and unvindictive as our eponymous heroine, as the misfortunes piled up. Abbie Hale's best friend Trixie kept Daisy's hopes up, even when all seemed to be lost. What wasn't there to loathe about Andrea Spencer's Sybil Burlington? Conniving, scheming and utterly without a conscience, or so it seemed, Andrea held back from turning her into a pantomime villain and gave us, as it turned out, a baddie with issues, who just needed to be loved. Ruby Belcher brought us Clare Beaumont the head girl as a commanding, fairminded, all-round good egg that was one of life's natural leaders. Mr Scoblowski, the mysterious Russian member of staff, was played by Mike Lacey as a shifty character that we were never quite sure about, which was as it should be. Mary Elizabeth Shewry's Miss Granville was the teacher who had her doubts about scholarship girl Daisy from the start, and was suitably disdainful of a pupil whom she was convinced had an inferior moral attitude to her regular girls. Paula Eastwood's Miss Gibson was the headmistress who desperately wanted to see the best in all her girls and, notwithstanding the comic aspects of the role, we saw a believable sense of betrayal when she discovered Daisy's apparently dastardly deeds laid bare.
The cast and director appear to have had a good deal of fun bringing this show to the stage, and that came across in the freshness and energy with which the show was performed. It was a pity then that, on the evening I visited, audience numbers were a little on the low side. Well done to all involved.
About the Author
Mike Lord has been involved with amateur theatre for over twenty years, mainly as an actor but also, more recently, as a director.
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