Review: Malory Towers, York Theatre Royal – ★★★★☆

In the technological age we are currently living in, you’d be forgiven for thinking books and paper literature was on the way out. Some works of fiction though, are timeless, and Enid Blyton’s novels will remain children’s and parents’ favourites for decades to come. The most successful book series of all time, Harry Potter, captured the imagination of young people (including myself) in the 1990s, but in the 1940s, it was another school, another set of young people that captured the hearts and minds, and the girls of Malory Towers, continue to do that today.

I have a lot of respect for Director Emma Rice; the Artistic Director of Wise Children and previous Shakespeare’s Globe director, Emma has a talent when it comes to characterisation and building character stories within her productions. Her Wise Children debut was one of the most well-received productions that York has ever seen, so naturally, excitement was high and the packed main room showcased that immediately.

Malory Towers provided a new challenge for Emma though, the adaptation of a novel to the stage and in the most part, she did this incredibly well. From the start, the Malory Towers series was made relevant and current to the 21st Century as the show began in a modern day school, a quirky take that certainly worked. All of the characters started the show in their 2019 selves, displaying the same character traits as the audience was about to be entertained by for the following 2 hours. This opening relaxed any doubts I had in Emma’s ability to adapt the novel and the opening track confirmed the cast were going to be a delight to spend the evening with.

The show follows the stories of Darrell Rivers (Izuka Hoyle) and her struggle with “villain” Gwendoline Lacey (Rebecca Collingwood) and their friends at Malory Towers school. Through a production packed with great tracks from Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing through to original tracks written by Emma Rice and Ian Ross, the stories of the seven girls are told wonderfully and poignantly.

The casting is nothing short of impeccable. Hoyle impresses as Darrell Rivers and Collingwood excels in her role and is the most engaging character. Mirabelle Gremaud, playing musical Irene Dupont is largely hidden but with her acrobatic style, stands out in moments – likewise whilst largely secondary to the narrative arc, Vinnie Heaven’s Bill Robinson has some of the most memorable lines and scenes in the show.

Humour is the overarching theme of Malory Towers which is what makes the production so wonderful for the audience. There is a bounce, an energy that never dies during the entire show and the way in which Renee Lamb, Francesca Mills and Rose Shalloo’s characters have been scripted ensure this comedy is a constant, even through the darker times. The audience was so receptive and hung to every line of Sally Hope’s (Mills) scripting, it was hard not to laugh out loud at both the words and the delivery in what was an outstanding, stellar performance.

Because of the outstanding scripting and direction, it actually took me a while to really appreciate the work of Lez Brotherston (Set and Costume) and Alistair David (Choreographer) who have clearly worked harmoniously to produce Malory Towers, The use of the beds and the raised stage allow for a dynamic performance in a limited set design. The creativity within the movement and set transitions ensures that even when slower paced tracks are played, there is always a feast for the eyes due to the flexibility in the staging.

Whilst elements of the show felt forced, or not necessary (Midsummer Night’s Dream to name just one), I thought that overall, Emma Rice’s direction combined with outstanding set, music and choreography meant that whoever they’d have cast, this show would have been a resounding success.

The story told was compelling, engaging and above all a fantastic adaptation of a wartime story brought into the modern day. Genius casting, genius staffing and some simply stunning harmonies and musical moments have all made me want to head straight to my local bookshop and find Malory Towers. I’ve only been writing theatre reviews for a few months, but in that short time, York Theatre Royal has been truly hospitable and the quality of production has astounded me. Malory Towers was the best yet and I can’t wait to continue to learn and enjoy future productions to come.

Malory Towers runs until September 14th at York Theatre Royal – tickets and more information here

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