As a child I devoured Secret Seven books and read every Famous Five adventure there was.
Even then Blyton’s world of midnight feasts seemed hopelessly outdated, so it’s something of a masterstroke that Emma Rice’s modern reboot is instantly accessible and fabulously relevant.
Weaving together storylines from the six books, all the original elements – and characters – are still there. In the new intake to Malory Towers we find Blyton’s answer to the Spice Girls, there’s the anxious one, the hot headed one, the nice but dim one and the very posh one, but that’s about as traditional as it gets.
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In Rice’s production the school itself is reimagined not as a real place, but one which is part Blyton, part Alice in Wonderland, part Wizard of Oz. It’s a fantasy world, where pomposity is undercut with comedy and a musical score which features barbershop a capella, big band swing numbers and a touch of soul. The cast is universally superb, but Rose Shalloo as the hopelessly risk averse Mary Lou Atkinson and Francesca Mills as megalomaniac-in-the-making Sally Hope just nab the award for scene stealing.
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This is Rice’s second production by her new company Wise Children. The first, an adaptation of Angela Carter’s novel of the same name, was a dark and riotous cabaret. Malory Towers opens up that same exciting – and slightly anarchic – approach to theatre, to a much younger audience, who will hopefully keep coming back for more. Blyton’s schoolmarmish tones about the importance of doing the right thing sometimes bubble to the surface, but as a celebration of strong women and the importance of friendship, this is hard to beat.
To September 14.