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Posts Tagged ‘Enid Blyton’

Enid Blyton’s series of adventures were at the top of my childhood reading list, with The Secret Seven close behind. They whisked me away from the valleys of South Wales on adventures which fed my imagination. Little did I know I’d be seeing their stage adaptation more than fifty years later, and when I entered the auditorium to see Lucy Osborne’s picture-book design my eyes lit up and a wave of nostalgia enveloped me.

Enid Blyton has sold over 500 million copies of her 700 books in 40+ languages, one every minute in 2021, so I’m not alone. There were 21 adventures in this series (and another 15 Secret Seven stories) between 1942 and 1962 and I don’t think they’ve ever been out of print. Adaptor Elinor Cook gives us a mash-up, with a sprinkling of more modern themes like equality and the environment.

Julian, Dick & Anne are spending the summer with eccentric inventor Uncle Quentin and Aunt Fanny, an archetypal loving mother and domestic goddess. Their headstrong tomboy daughter George and her dog Timmy make it five. The double kidnap adventure is connected to Quentin’s latest work on alternative energy but it has a redemptive ending as Quentin accepts his flaws. The benign station-master moonlights as the kidnapper’s accomplice, anything for money, but he regrets it and is ultimately forgiven.

I’ve much admired the orchestrations, arrangements and musical direction of Theo Jamieson and this is his first full musical. The songs are not always well served by the vocals, with Lara Denning as Aunt Fanny & Isabelle Methven as Anne taking the musical honours. Katherine Rockhill’s band, though visible behind a gauze screen above the action, sometimes seemed disjointed from the vocals, presumably because of the sound design. In the acting department, Louis Suc is terrific as Dick, capturing all of those young teenager mores. Sam Harrison gives a fine comic performance as the station master et al. A puppet takes a starring role as Timmy, with others as sea lions, birds and bunnies, all designed and directed by Rachael Canning. I liked the staging by Tamara Harvey, with choreographer Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Forster bringing both pace and a teenage adventure feel.

It’s an impressive first musical, if not a great show. The young audience clearly enjoyed it. For me, it seemed a bit surreal seeing contemporary youngsters connect with something I’d hitherto considered belonged to my childhood!

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This is the second production from Wise Children, Emma Rice’s new company, following the show also called Wise Children. It wasn’t scheduled to come to London, so I went to Cambridge, which probably guarantees it will now come to London!

It’s based on the first of Enid Blyton’s books of the same name, set in a girls boarding school in Cornwall soon after the Second World War. Six schoolgirls arrive for their first term, joined by another held back a year. Each represents an archetype – the bully, the bossy one, the class clown, the timid one and so on. The clash between these very different personalities is the source of much of the story, though there’s an unplanned adventure and a school play to put on. It became a bit darker, with an injection of feminism, in the second half, which I liked. We don’t meet any of the staff, though the Headmistress is represented in animation, voiced by Sheila Hancock.

There are songs, including a handful of new ones by Ian Ross & Emma Rice and standards like Mr Sandman, with live piano accompaniment from Stephanie Hockley, occasionally joined by members of the cast on other instruments. There are clever projections and animations onto the second, classroom, level of Lez Brotherston’s set, with the front stage the dormitory. The seven performers are excellent, perfectly capturing the archetypes and the period. Yet there’s something missing – it has less of the inventiveness we’ve become used to with Rice’s work, it’s a bit slow to take off and it lacks some sparkle. That said, there’s a lot to enjoy and it was a somewhat nostalgic, chirpy show, if not not vintage Rice.

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