A group of girls removed from adult influence is the premise of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers, but also goes some way to describe the spirit of Wise Children, the theatre company behind its new stage adaptation.
Angela Carter’s novel Wise Children was the first show by the company founded by Emma Rice, former artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe – a job she walked away from after it tried to rein in her artistic freedom. The joyful, anarchic production demonstrated the strange and wonderful results of it being unbound.
A stand-out performance came from Mirabelle Gremaud, who left audience members in awe of her acrobatics before reducing them to tears with her musical performance.
“Malory Towers offers exactly the same range of skills for me to showcase,” says Gremaud, who plays Irene Bartlett. “I get to sing and dance, including acrobatics that are part of my character’s movement language. I also get to play the harp as my character is the musician – the girl who loves music and being upside down. I basically play myself.”
Gremaud was born and grew up in Switzerland, gaining a degree in physical theatre from the Accademia Teatro Dimitri before moving to London to train at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Dance.
“I decided to stay and try my luck in the wonderful London art scene,” she says. “I worked for some circus and dance companies, and did a lot of auditions for dance and theatre until that lucky day when I auditioned for Emma Rice.
“I didn’t really know who she was at first or the kind of work she was doing. But the audition was amazing, and from that day on, the magic started.”
Malory Towers features animation and is packed full of music and dancing. Rice says her vision was for it to be “like Busby Berkeley, but in an earthy, feminist way”.
She’s a recent convert to the books and was lured in by a vintage set gifted to her by producer David Pugh.
“He has great taste and he knows me so well, damn him,” says Rice. “As soon as I read the first one I just knew they would make a great piece of theatre. They’re such page turners, the characters are so well observed and the powerful feminine voice comes through with such positivity.”
Written between 1946 and 1951, Malory Towers is the original girl power story, following Darrell Rivers and her friends as they attend boarding school on the Cornish Coast.
“I love the atmosphere and the humour,” says Gremaud. “As a kid, I read The Famous Five so I knew Enid Blyton’s language already but as a Swiss French reader the story sounds very English indeed.”
The show is recommended for the young as well as the young at heart – although there’ll be lots of naughtiness, it’ll be a different brand to that of the Carter adaptation. There are some common themes between the theatre company’s two productions however – parental absence, strong girls, Shakespeare and both stories being set post-war, a time that Rice says “feels close enough to touch”.
Gremaud sees other similarities too. “They both start with glory and excitement but as you enter into the story and get to know the characters a bit more, you discover the darker and heavier themes that inhabit them. That’s a brilliant contrast to their sparkling beginnings.”
Malory Towers is at York Theatre Royal, 10-14 Sept, and Manchester’s Home, 24-28 Sept (wisechildren.co.uk). Wise Children will be screened in cinemas from 3 Oct (wisechildrencinema.com)
Main photo: cast members Mirabella Gremaud (left) with Renee Lamb, Rose Shalloo (front) and Vinnie Heaven (Steve Tanner)
Like Big Issue North on Facebook