The great director Paulette Randall turns in a genuinely hilarious, age-, colour- and gender-blind production of the classic boarding school satire
It’s unlikely this revival of Denise Deegan’s girls’ boarding school piss-take will repeat the West End run that the original enjoyed from 1983 to 1986. But, as a fringe Christmas show and employing as much ridiculousness as it can muster, this 30-year-old shot of silliness is in the right place at the right time, providing an easy, jolly exercise in physical comedy.
From midnight feasts to girls who are ‘first-class sports players as well as having a brain’, Deegan has mined every trope available from the Enid Blyton and Angela Brazil school of literature. Daisy Meredith (a butter-wouldn’t-melt Anna Shaffer) has won a scholarship to the prestigious Grangewood School, and her dorm mates – including the stupidly funny Clare Perkins as a 14-year-old who sounds like she smokes 40 a day – don’t let her forget her impecunious roots. Alongside her best friend Trixie – played by Pauline McLynn (‘Father Ted’) in her element here – and amid hockey matches and poetry competitions, Daisy must find a secret hoard of treasure to keep the school from closing.
Despite its age, the way it pokes fun at the extraordinarily white, privileged 1920s boarding-school world has only intensified – and it’s sharpened by director Paulette Randall’s choice to cast colour-, age- and even gender-blind.
We’re very much in ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ territory: rehearsed amateurism, fond mockery, physical humour. The set and props, a few blackboards and chairs, are things the grinning, giggling ‘schoolgirls’ could have mustered from their school hall.
It would be easy to mistake the corpsing and muck-ups – such as Perkins’s unstuck moustache – for slackness, but comedy veteran Randall clearly knows what she’s doing. She has given the performers just enough rope to let them respond to unscripted moments, but not enough to disrupt the careful, joyful choreography of her direction.
Two scenes elevate this production from jolly parody to masterful comedy: a thrilling hockey match and a daring clifftop rescue mission, in which a wind-battered cliff face is conjured from just a couple of wooden school chairs.
‘Daisy Pulls It Off’ is hardly Christmassy, aside from a mention of a mince pie, but it does have all the broad, gleeful panto elements that make for an ideal seasonal treat. Paulette Randall has pulled it off.