Emma Rice’s theatre company, Wise Children, has announced a new production of Enid Blyton’s classic children’s stories about a girls’ boarding school, Malory Towers.
Adapted and directed by Rice herself, it promises “high jinks, high drama and high spirits, all set to sensational live music and breath-taking animation”. Her motivation for putting the books on stage was partly driven by her own mother’s life-changing experience of a girls’ school.
Malory Towers will open on 25 July 2019 at The Passenger Shed in the company’s home city of Bristol before embarking on a tour to venues across the UK including Cambridge, York, Exeter, Manchester and Oxford.
Described as the original Girl Power story, Wise Children believes the classic stories – published between 1946 and 1951 – are “nostalgic, naughty and perfect for now”. It follows the theatre company’s tour of the stage adaptation of Angela Carter’s novel, Wise Children.
They focus on new girl Darrell Rivers who is starting school with an eager mind and fierce heart as well as a quick temper. Can she learn to tolerate the infuriating Gwendoline Lacey, or value the kind hearted Sally Hope? Can she save the school play and rescue terrified Mary Lou from the grip of a raging storm?
Recommended for ages eight and over, the show is aimed at girls, boys and “grown-up children who still dream of midnight feasts and Cornish clifftops”.
The show is officially licensed by Enid Blyton Entertainment, a division of Hachette Children’s Group (HCG), which is this year re-publishing the six books with a new look as part of wider activity around the series.
Karen Lawler, head of licensed content at HCG, said: “Enid Blyton created incredible female characters at Malory Towers: strong, capable and always, always kind – ‘women the world can lean on’, in Enid’s own words. We share Emma’s passion for these characters and we couldn’t be more excited to see Emma’s vision of Malory Towers come to life.”
The new show is co-produced by York Theatre Royal in association with Bristol Old Vic. After The Passenger Shed, it will tour to Cambridge Arts Theatre, York Theatre Royal, Exeter Northcott Theatre, Home in Manchester and Oxford Playhouse.
Announcing the new show, Emma Rice has written about her love for Malory Towers: “I’ve always been drawn to the years that followed the Second World War. It’s a time that feels close enough to touch, as I vividly remember my grandparents and how the war affected their lives. My mum’s parents – poor and largely uneducated – decided that their children would have access to all the things that they hadn’t. I don’t know how they managed it on a railway worker’s pay, but my mother was sent to a remote grammar school in Dorset: Lord Digby’s School for Girls.
Whilst not a boarding school, Lord Digby’s was an extraordinary place of learning that changed my mother’s, and by extension my own, life. The tendrils of passion and education that Lord Digby’s stood for reach out across 60 years and more. They reached out over my inner-city comprehensive education and have shaped my own beliefs and choices to this day.
My adaptation of Malory Towers is dedicated to the generation of women who taught in schools in that period. With lives shaped by the savagery of two wars, these teachers devoted themselves to the education and nurture of other women. It is also for the two generations of men that died in those same wars, leaving us with the freedom to lead meaningful, safe and empowered lives. And it is for Clement Attlee and his Labour government of 1945 who looked into the face of evil and chose to do what was right. These people changed the political landscape in their focus on care, compassion and the common good.
Malory Towers was written at the heart of this political revolution and embodies a kindness, hope and love of life that knocks my socks off. ‘Long live our appetites and may our shadows never grow less!’ the girls cry.
My mother wrote to her teachers at Lord Digby’s until they died and is still friends with many of the girls she met there. And when I see my mum, born into the poorest of rural backgrounds, enjoying Dickens and Almodovar and speaking French to her childhood pen-friend, I am stopped in my tracks. She went on to dedicate her life to the NHS and the helping of others whilst never losing her appetite for life, culture and hope. I salute her, and I cheer the education that threw this mind and soul into the air and said, ‘Be a woman that the world can lean on’.
So that’s why I am making Malory Towers, with gratitude, hope and sheer pleasure! I call it my ‘Happy Lord of the Flies’ and it is joyfully radical to its bones. Imagine a world where (left to their own devices) people choose kindness. Imagine a world where difference is respected and arguments resolved with thought and care. Imagine a world that chooses community, friendship and fun. Now that’s a world I want to live in and, at Malory Towers, you can!”
MALORY TOWERS TOUR
18 July – 18 August 2019
The Passenger Shed
5 – 7 September 2019
Cambridge Arts Theatre
10 – 14 September 2019
York Theatre Royal
17 – 21 September 2019
Exeter Northcott Theatre
24 – 28 September 2019
1 – 5 October 2019