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Produced by arrangement with The Really Useful Group Ltd

 

Nadine’s Window presents

 

Daisy Pulls it Of


Photo courtesy of Dan Wooller / wooller.com

 

by Denise Deegan


Directed by Nadine Hanwell

 

Arts Theatre

 

19 January - 6 February 2010

 

 

 

 

A review by Jay Richards for EXTRA! EXTRA!

At 7.29pm in the aisles of the Arts Theatre, neatly dressed schoolgirls welcome the audience with beaming smiles and a comely demeanour. As we take our seats, we notice a large crest dominating the austere stage (black drapes and simple wooden chairs), demarcating the auditorium in no uncertain terms as ‘Grangewood School’. When the headmistress addresses us, we sit up straighter. What follows is a lesson in delicious comic irony.
 
Denise Deegan’s Daisy Pulls it Off charts the tribulations of the eponymous heroine Daisy, a scholarship pupil making the leap from elementary school (a working class primary school) to the fictional Grangewood private school for girls in the late 1920s. Yes, jolly hockey sticks abound, but the play is also a considered study of class conflict and captures a turbulent period in this country’s social development. Daisy faces not only the catty snobbery of upper-class students from wealthy families but also the pressure to represent an entire body of people, hitherto barred from the citadels of expensive education.
 
Director Nadine Hanwell deserves top marks for unravelling a perfectly puzzling paradox: Edwardian over-statement, colossally out of fashion, played with straight-faced Edwardian earnestness makes, surprise, surprise, for a ripping good show. Instead of a trite history lesson or saccharine gaze through rose-tinted spectacles, the tongue goes past the plums in the mouth firmly into the cheek and the laughs come thick and fast.
 
We gulp down the cliché like so much iced ginger beer; the stock characters, like the self-proclaimed ‘enigmatic Russian music teacher‘, we scoff like fresh club sandwiches. Deegan spoons on the parody in great dollops: of course there is hidden treasure somewhere at Grangewood; of course Daisy the underdog bests her privileged fellow students in the classroom and on the sports field; of course she is resourceful and unfailingly magnanimous in victory.  
 
As Daisy, Lucy Austin is superb, wringing her hands in exasperation when thwarted, before whirling on to the next scheme like an exuberant dervish. She gets excellent support from Rebecca Haigh, whose frantic Trixie fairly tears around the stage, pigtails pursuing close behind. Senior girls Claire and Alice, played by Emma Scholes and Joanne Gale, respectively, are appropriately matriarchal, bearing the oh-so-heavy burden of leadership with deep sighs and furrowed brows. Jennifer Page’s lollipop-licking, sycophantic brat Monica is pitch-perfect (think Violet Elizabeth Bott, Just William fans) while Fiona Domenica’s dowdy Sybil, scion of the moneyed few, provides an effectively effete foil to Daisy’s ‘go get ‘em’ pragmatism.
 
In a moment of illumination that rises above parody, Sybil correctly observes that ‘Grangewood is a mirror for the world’. Indeed, power structures, obedience to authority and isolation are also features of the universe that exists beyond the school gate. At every turn, this show compliments our worldly knowledge and grown-up sense of humour, forcing us to re-contextualise the memories of our school days as we revisit them here. Looking back, our earnestness was hilarious, Deegan seems to be saying. But in Daisy Pulls it Off, as well as splitting our sides, she offers a compelling account as to why, at the time, it felt like we were playing for keeps.

 

 

 

www.artstheatrewestend.com

Arts Theatre
6-7 Great Newport St
London
WC2H 7JB

+44 (0) 845 017 5584

Tickets from £12.50 on www.seetickets.com

 

 

 

 

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