REVIEW: Malory Towers at Cambridge Arts Theatre - tales told out of school are better left unsaid

PUBLISHED: 00:12 05 September 2019 | UPDATED: 00:12 05 September 2019

The cast of Malory Towers

The cast of Malory Towers

Archant

This homage to the series of six Enid Blyton books written between 1946 and 1951 is packed full of songs with good tunes. It has a young cast brimming with talent - which they lend to the show to spice it up.

Malory Towers is a box of theatrical tricks.

This homage to the series of six Enid Blyton books written between 1946 and 1951 is packed full of songs with good tunes. It has a young cast brimming with talent - which they lend to the show to spice it up.

Sadly, the show itself is nothing like as exciting or engaging as director Emma Rice's brilliant Wise Children, inspired by Angela Carter's novel.

Malory Towers the musical, set in a boarding school, does evoke the atmosphere of Blyton. Unfortunately, mostly its nastiness, and at times it also has the dreariness of school. The action is repetitative and sometimes slow.

We see the pettiness, the bitchiness, everything but the hair-pulling, the group all ganging up on one girl but it is rasping rather than entertaining.

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We have Blyton's schoolgirl heroine and anti-heroine, the wrong that must be righted, the danger that a girl must be rescued from - the desperation to find a friend. But apart from one character, there is little attempt here to create the atmosphere of the 1950s, which seems like a missed opportunity.

That said, the performances here are enjoyable. Francesca Mills as the spirited Sally Hope had a delightful 1950s style of voice and demeanor and great comic timing.

Mirabelle Gremaud, as the musical pupil Irene Dupont, showed endless talent, with a beautiful jazz singing voice, also playing the harp and cartwheeling across the stage.

There was a strong and amusing performance from Rose Shalloo as the timid Mary Lou Atkinson, the mouse who finds her courage by the end.

A real highlight for me was Rebecca Collingwood (who plays the baddie Gwendoline Lacey) singing I can Dream Can't I in the style of a song written by Noel Coward.

Tributes also to pianist Stephanie Hockley who plays throughout.

The show has splendid moments - the audience whooped with appreciation at the end, but as they often said in school reports, with ability like this, they deserve stronger material so they "could do better."

Malory Towers is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, September 7.

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