PRIOR to the onset of digital and social media, the preferred opiate of the pre-adolescent masses was comics. For girls, these were the likes of Judy, Bunty and, for previous generations, the School Girls Own Annual, the inspiration and source material for Denise Deegan’s play Daisy Pulls it Off.
In perverse contrast to most children’s life experience, there has always been a fascination with the public-school experience which persists to the present day, not least within the walls of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.
So it is with Deegan’s play, which sees Daisy Meredith (Anna Shaffer) progressing from the bleak prospects of elementary school to the hallowed heights of the upper fourth at Grangewood School for Girls on a scholarship. Her expectations are tempered and tested by the adverse winds of English upper-class snobbery, manifest in the devious and malicious actions of Sybil (Shobna Gulati) and her sidekick Monica (Clare Perkins).
Falsely accused of sneaking, cheating and theft, her imminent downfall is triumphantly redeemed by valiant exploits on the hockey field, the heroic rescue of classmates from a watery grave and, in her discovery of hidden treasure, the financial salvation of the school.
Stage debutant Shaffer (pictured) takes to the boards like a duck to water in the central role of Daisy, one which offers the least scope for comedic expression. The protagonist is such a beautiful, pure and virtuous soul it is not impossible to sympathise with Sybil in bringing her down a peg or two. Nevertheless, central to the peripheral action, Shaffer’s is an assured and confident performance in a production where the comedic laurels unquestionably go to Pauline McLynn in the role of Trixie. The unprepossessing best friend of Daisy, she brings an unbridled energy and brio to a performance best expressed in her oft-repeated catchword “jubilato.”
There’s are no weak performances in a play where adults in the roles of children might be hostages to fortune and, despite a few rough edges, the right balance is struck between parody and believability.
Director Paulette Randall remains true to Deegan’s original concept of a small cast playing diverse parts with minimal scenery and, within those constraints, excels.
The highlights of the show are the immaculately choreographed hockey match with a compelling commentary from McLynn and the breathtaking rescue scene — who would believe that a few scattered chairs could suggest the white cliffs of Dover?
Runs until January 13, box office: parktheatre.co.uk