pic: Dan Wooller / wooller.com

Daisy Pulls It Off

22nd January 2010

The Arts Theatre • Great Newport Street • London WC2 • 0870 060 1742

Reviewed by Jill Glenn

It is – shockingly – over 25 years since the original West End production of Daisy Pulls It Off. In the terminology of the ‘gels’ on stage, it was a ripping success, continuing for nearly 1200 performances.

The Arts Theatre version, from small-scale company Nadine’s Window, is much more modest, but it has all the energy and humour that I remember from that first run. The play has dated, of course, being so many years further on from the time frame it references, but you rapidly stop being alienated by words like ‘topping’ and ‘spiffing’ and ‘rotter’, and find yourself drawn into the increasingly implausible plot: will Daisy, new scholarship girl at exclusive Grangewood School, overcome the hostility of her classmates? Will she find the hidden treasure? Will she sneak on the bullies, or will she keep the honour code that they think she (ex-elementary school, don’t you know?!) can’t possibly understand?

It’s billed as a parody – which, of course, is true – but it also offers some food for thought. The programme notes offer some useful pointers to life in 1927: that girls could marry at 12, for example, that not all women had the vote, that the professions were only just opening up to women, and that for bright poor girls, like Daisy, education was the only escape from ‘horrid, menial work’. Her focus on doing well, on making her mother and four little brothers proud of her, is understandable (and I’m sure there’s many a teacher of today’s 14 year olds who’d like as much commitment from their pupils). The honour code impedes her, because she values it (too?) highly, but there’s something really rather enviable about this world in which trust mattered so much, and you really knew who your friends were.

Lucy Austin as Daisy was excellent, and thoroughly believable; she reminded me of one of my nieces, long grown up now: all that teenage angst and enthusiasm. Most of the cast managed to keep their performances just the right side of caricature. There’s no character development, no interesting psychological depths to explore, but all these actors, women in their twenties playing teenage girls, managed to create believable people in this plot-driven piece. It was all light and bright and amusing, just as it should be.

I enjoyed this tremendously. Yes, I’m sure that there are much worthier plays around, but this was good, wholesome fun, and a welcome dose of escapism. Rehearsals must have been a riot.

Whether you’d enjoy it quite so much if you weren’t a secret fan of old-fashioned school stories, I’m not sure – but if you still harbour any nostalgia for the Abbey Girls, the Chalet School or the extensive output of Angela Brazil, then Daisy Pulls It Off is the acceptable public face of an indulgent private passion.

Run along, now…

Tuesday 19th January – Saturday 6th February 2010
Performance times:
Monday to Thursday 7.30pm (Press night Thursday 21st January 7.00pm)
Friday 5.00pm & 8.00pm
Saturday 3.00pm & 8.00pm

Box Office: 0845 017 5584 or www.seetickets.com

Tickets: £18 (19th & 20th January) £20/£25 all other performances (plus booking fee)

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