Watermill - Daisy Pulls It Off
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Watermill - Daisy Pulls It Off

3rd June to 10th July 2010.

Review from Newbury Theatre.

Step back in time 80 years to a more innocent age. An Enid Blyton world of friendships and adventures, of honour and integrity. This is the world of Denise Deegan’s Daisy Pulls It Off, giving a rose-tinted view of a society very different from ours.

The play, about Daisy’s adventures in a girls’ private boarding school, was written in 1983 and takes an affectionate look at the jolly-hockey-sticks environment. Daisy, from an elementary school background, has won a scholarship to the school and has to contend with the snobbishness and prejudice of some of her wealthier classmates. Despite all the troubles that befall her she proves that honesty and goodness can triumph over narrow minded bigotry.

Daisy is a popular play – there are nine productions of it in the Newbury area by amateur groups recorded on this site in the last ten years – and looking at the Watermill’s production you can see why: it’s a hoot.

The girls in the cast are mostly recent drama school graduates, and they get stuck in with great gusto and enthusiasm. Emerald O’Hanrahan is a totally likeable Daisy (despite being sickeningly pretty, intelligent, honourable and resourceful). The other girls are all beautifully played, but Rosalind Steele won my heart as the galumphing Belinda and the provider of the music on piano, violin and percussion, including instruments you will never see in an orchestra.

There are some lovely touches in the production, from the excellent choreography by Fiona Rae (a hockey match, and a clifftop rescue above a raging sea? On the Watermill’s stage? Yes!) to the surreal (girl as standard lamp in the head’s study, with a lampshade covering her head). But words can’t do justice to what is a very visual, and very funny, play. If you want cheering up on a wet evening, or to get away from the World Cup (or to console yourself if England lose), go along to the Watermill and see director Caroline Leslie’s hilarious and uplifting production. Jubilate!

PAUL SHAVE

From the Daily Telegraph.

Four stars

For quite a while, when Ed Hall and his all-male Propeller company were in residence, the Watermill Theatre in Newbury was where the boys got to do their own thing. Now it’s nice to see the opposite sex hogging the limelight for a change with this ripping revival of the predominantly female romp Daisy Pulls It Off.

This is the blissfully assured pastiche by Denise Deegan of all those hearty adventure stories for girls, popularised by the likes of Angela Brazil and Elinor Brent-Dyer, which flourished through the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s up to the point where the ‘permissive’ society took hold. And surely one of the reasons for the success of the play - which enjoyed a long run in the West End in 1983 - is that it has a foot in both periods. It invites a more cynical and knowing age to look back in laughter at a bygone boarding-school world of lusty innocence and moral conformism. At the same time, it evokes that world with such zest and spirit that its admirable qualities shine through. It loves the very thing it spoofs.

Somehow fitting an impressive wooden-panelled set onto the Watermill’s cupboard-small stage, Caroline Leslie’s production pulls off the trick of being at once in earnest and tongue-in-cheek to perfection. With much giggling in the wings before curtain-up, and one of the gals of “Grangewood School”, Rosalind Steele’s Belinda, thundering away at an old piano, the whole caper reeks of an end-of-term lark while never letting up on brisk and crisp comic professionalism.

Straight out of drama school and, yes, fresh as a daisy, Emerald O’Hanrahan (already playing Emma Grundy in The Archers) is the eponymous new “scholarship” girl who must overcome the snobbery, jealousy and dastardly machinations of beastly Sybil and her chum Monica to secure her own reputation and the ailing school’s secreted fortunes.

The rest of the youthful, gymslip-clad ensemble work equally hard to conjure vim-full and vigorous Twenties girlhood. There’s particularly fine support from Holly Goss as the jolly hockey-sticks school-captain Clare and Rosie Jones as Daisy’s staunch pal Trixie while older hand Elizabeth Marsh provides a nice glowering counterpoint as a brace of battle-axe teachers. Does the joke wear thin? At moments it does, a little - but as someone who’d hardly be classed as the ideal target-audience for this, I was surprised at just how swiftly the time flew by. A text-book example of a midsummer hoot.

DOMINIC CAVENDISH

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Tophole Watermill!

Grown-up girls pull off the schoolgirl jape at the Bagnor theatre

Daisy Pulls it Off, at The Watermill, until July 10

I say, there's an absolutely spiffing show at the Watermill, guaranteed to make you forget it will soon be sheets turned side to middle and using the jolly old darning mushroom to help solve the national debt.

You'll positively dance out of the theatre feeling lighthearted at this story of Daisy Meredith (Emerald O'Hanrahan, shortly to be heard as Emma in The Archers) an elementary schoolgirl who wins a scholarship to the posh Grangewood School For Girls.

It was 1927 and the girls were celebrating the school's 25th anniversary. Preliminaries were great, with giggling behind the bulging curtain and much 'ssshhhing', along with an occasional loud 'OW!' as the Head (Elizabeth Marsh) welcomed us.

In burst seven gymslipped girls, hair in flying bunches, tight plaits or neat crops and Sybil (Amy Downham) the only Upper Fourth attempting sophistication. Sybil it was who, with sidekick Monica (Jaimi Barbakoff), played a number of jolly unfair tricks on Daisy, a tophole girl, all wide-eyed honesty, with a code of ethics as rigid as Nelson's Column.

We had the good girl and the horrid pair. What was missing? The good chum of course, and it's curly-haired Trixie (Rosie Jones) who tells Daisy about the troubles of the absolutely super (yearn, yearn) headgirl, Clare Beaumont (Holly Goss).

Her family own Grangewood but money troubles mean the school will be sold UNLESS the hidden treasure can be found. Who's going to find it? Why Daisy and Trixie who form a Secret Society.

Music teacher Mr Scoblowski (Robert Maskell sounding eerily like that meerkat) seems to be after the treasure too. Who will get to it first? Will Daisy be expelled? Can she rescue the girls from the cliff? (Hilarious seagulls.)You get the drift?

It's hard to believe that the girls, who include Claire Brown as sporty sixth-former Alice and Rosalie Steele as bouncy, enthusiastic Belinda, are in fact women grown, so exuberantly do they hurl thems5elves into their roles, often while chucking furniture deftly around as the scenes change.

Director Caroline Leslie and her team have got it absolutely right. This was a joyous, jolly, jubilation of a play which would have Angela B and Enid B nodding with approval.

Congrats to them all. A frightfully decent evening.

CAROLINE FRANKLIN

There are reviews at The Stage ("the Watermill proves once again that the best things come in small packages... the cast are sublimely divine"), The British Theatre Guide ("wonderful 'top hole' production, full of fun and thoroughly enjoyable... one summer production that's not to be missed"), The Public Reviews - four stars ("this production is not to be missed").