Daisy Pulls It
Off Bryan Ferriman discusses his production for the Talisman Theatre Company, Kenilworth
DaiSY Pulls It Off is likely to attract many companies in the coming year or so because it offers a sizeable number of good parts for actresses together with clear audience appeal. This cer tainly was central to the thinking of the Talisman Theatre, Kenil worth who, by opening on 1st July 1989, were lucky enough to stage the amateur premiere. The play does, however, present a number of specific problems which are addressed in the main body of this article. Plot The play traces the trials and tribulations of Daisy Meredith who has won a scholarship to the smart Grangewood School for Young Ladies. Her back ground as a pupil from an impoverished elementary school enrages the snobbish Sybil Burlington and the dreadful toady Monica Smithers. This pair engage in a number of schemes to discredit Daisy in the eyes of the staff and the rest of the school and ultimately almost succeed in having her dismissed from the school. It is only Daisy's heroic rescue of the awful pair from a rapidly crumb ling cliff ledge during a furious storm that finally brings Sybil to her senses. Along the way Daisy also scores the winning goals in the County Hockey Championships and finds the long lost treasure of the Beaumont family thereby saving Clare Beaumon~, school head girl, .from penury. Ulti mately Daisy's lost, and pre sumed dead, father turns out to 'be the school janitor who, having regained his memory turns out to be Sir David Beau mont, uncle to Clare. The play is a witty, and affectionate, parody of Angela Brazil's popular schoolgirl novels of the twenties and the improb able events described above will surprise nobody familiar with the books. Any director seeing PAGE
the piece principally as a rip roaring comedy may WEll be disappointed for though it has laughs in plenty, audiences gen erally are attracted to the piece by its quality of innocent charm.
smaller actress. All the girls should be competent singers but Daisy will need to be accom plished.
Cast Without any doubling the play needs thirteen women and two men. This could be reduced, where necessary, by doubling the small parts of Daisy's mother and the French mistress. Further reduction might be achieved by incorporating the small part of Dora with that of Belinda. Casting of the nine girls' parts is crucial. It is unlikely that many companies will have sufficient young actresses to play the parts without requiring some to "age down". On the other hand many older actresses may be a little inhibited when asked to play with the effervescent innocence that the piece demands. The parts of Daisy and her "best chum" Trixie are large and will need experienced per formers .
Set Design The action as described in the script takes place in a variety of locations which include Daisy's home, a railway station, inside a railway carriage, a second railway station, school class room, school library, the sanato rium, the head's study, the head girl's study, the fourth year common room, the school hall, a hockey pitch and a cliff top. Anyone who saw the West End production will remember that it made copious use of revolves to create these locations. Clearly such an approch is not appro priate for the majority of ama teur productions. I would also suggest that in some ways it runs counter to the spirit of the play. At the start of the play the headmistress, Miss Gibson, tells the audience, which she takes to consist of parents, friends and
There are certain natural pair ings such as Sybil and Monica (opposed to Daisy), Daisy and her friend Trixie, Dora and Belinda (class mates) and 'the head girl and vice head Clare and Alice. Remembering that the girls will all be in school uniform it is worth trying to cast these pairs with some physical or vocal contrast to help the audi ence in identification. Clare and Alice as sixth formers, and prodi gious sports women, wlll need to be taller. The tiny, but delightful, part of the second former Winnie will need a
governors of the school. that "the evening's entertainment is the responsibility of the fourth form". It is, therefore, reasonable to supply a realistic smart school hall which can be adapted easily to suggest each location with any set changing being minimal and carried out by the girls themselves. After lengthy discussion a set was designed which consisted of a panelled hall with an upper gallery. Vertical Sight lines for the Talisman Thea~re meant that the gallery was five and a half feet above the stage Aoor. Only
half the gallery had rails since it would also serve as Ithe cliff top and the school sanatorium. Access to the gallery was by a door "up-stage left", from the wings "up-stage right" or by the stairs. The door "down-stage right" was placed at an opened angle to make the set less of a box. There were further entrances "down-stage left" and "down-stage right" immediately above the proscenium arch. The DSL door was generally assumed to lead to the dormi tories and the USR door to staff and six,th form quarters. The panelled walls were made as realistic as possible in detail but broken away to reveal the sky. This created a greater sense of space and made exterior scenes more natural. Lighting changes on the sky cloth were useful for suggesting time and time lapse. The gallery, together with the broken away wails, with careful lighting became entirely suitable for the cliff top at night. A wooden buttress in the centre of the gallery provided footholds for the cliff rescue. Two five foot wide, double sided, opening sections were used to create further locations. One, placed DSR, with a suitable chair and a framed diploma became the head ' s study. Hockey sticks and a different chair turned it into the head girls' study while a bookcase fitting into the panelled section together with a small table turned it into the library. The second was USL and when open with an attached blackboard ana two three foot benches it became a classroom Amaieur Siage Odober 1989
;ee photograph). Although ''lere was reference in the text to .resks this provided setting prob ems. The girls all had satchels d references to desks were SImply changed to satchels. If, ...hen Daisy searches for the geography test paper in the brief cene on pages 31 and 32 she IJses her satchel rather than her desk, the classroom is only needed in the first act. During the interval two girls changed the classroom to the fourth year common room, needed at the beginning of the second half, by removing the blackboard and benches and adding a chair. The panels were effectively hidden by constructing them in such a way that the joints were masked by the panelling of the side walls. Opening these sections was either done by actresses on stage as a natural part of the action or opened from behind. Whereas the USL section could be effec tivley masked by Aats the section DSR needed a curtain behind it which was closed as soon as setting was completed. The train scene was simply established by girls carrying on
four three foot benches and plaCing them as two pairs facing each other in the main acting area. Each pair of benches tapered upstage. The effect was completed by suitable move ment from the girls and adding appropriate steam train sound. Since it is essential to maintain (he rhythm of the piece it is important that any changes take place without interrupting the action. Rehearsals :he rehearsal pattern was, to me extent, determined by "Ieatre policy which is normally 'en weeks with four rehearsals _ r week. In the event it became ~ sible to have an extra week ,'ing a total of thirty two earsals. The first five weeks fre in the theatre rehearsal m with a further three weeks ,..!<ur Siage Oclober 1989
on stage. The play was broken down into 43 sedions. These were grouped so that early rehearsals could concentrate on small groups of actprs. The first week was spent on Ad 1 and the second on Act 2 with this cycle repeated for weeks three and four. Rather than detailed blocking most grouping and movement evolved naturally through rehearsal. The shared intention was to develop an energetic, bright vocal delivery with a clear sense of purpose. We discussed how the "gamine", innocence apparent in the illus trations of Angela Brazil's novels might be incorporated into the movement of the girls. We were keen to establish the notion that this was a school produdion by staff and students rather than a conventional show with the normal formal separa tion between audience and cast. To this end we had most of the cast mingling with audience in the bar and foyer prior to the start. The girls had trays of cucumber sandwiches and small "school baked" cakes. The headmistress acted as front of
house manager and, assisted by other staff and some of the girls, organised people to their seats. Girls and staff assembled "on stage", persuaded by the headmistress, who, when every one was assembled, started the play. Clearly this could not be rehearsed and we merely estab lished some ground rules. These were that: -everyone stayed in character. -unknown people were seleded when pOSSible. -extended conversation was avoided. -adresses were aware of others possibly in difficulty and rescued them. Lighting This was seen as a major design component for mood and loca tion definition. Since day and night for both interior and
exterior scenes were needed this
resulted in quite a lot of "dou
bling up" of lanterns with differ
ent gels. The breakdown was:
.44 x 500w fresnels • 20 x 650w fresnels • 5 x 1000w fresnels .7 x 500w profiles ·4 x 4 "groundrow" units to - light the Sky cloth. - Total wattage 44 kilowatts. The Talisman Theatre has a computerised lighting board which can be programmed dur ing technical rehearsals. This clearly makes handling an exten sive lighting plot easier. Costume and Props We were keen to avoid the rather conventional navy blue gymslips and had a considerable stroke of good fortune. A local professional company, the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, had staged the play some twelve months before. When approached we were pleased to discover that they had made a set of sky blue gymslips which were stilt in their wardrobe. We were able to hire eight gymslips, blouses, ties, blazers, bloomers, hats and some shoes. Other costumes came from our own wardrobe. "Props" presented more prob lems which entailed a certain amount of searching around. We needed at least four "twenties" style hockey sticks which have a much longer bottom sedion ~han modern ones. Satchels are now rare and we had people hunting in cupboards and attics for some time before we found enough. For convenience of staging the which was originally in the sanatorium was transferred to the main floor of the stage. It needed, however, to be clear that Daisy was still in a weakened condition. A wheelchair seemed the obvious answer and eventuallY we traced down an ancient heavy wooden one.
Special Effects Principal amongst these was the Beaumont treasure hidden behind the portrait of Sir Digby Beaumont. A theatre member painted the portrait with the astronomical instrument held in his hand painted on gauze. This was then lit from behind to make it glow. The treasure, built into a recess behind the painting, was revealed by haVing the painting drop on the guillotine blade principle A further effed was attempted early in the play when DaiSY took leave of her mother at the station. To suggest the train pulling out, Daisy's mother went slowly off stage back wards. This was achieved by having a small low holley with fixed wheels upon which she stood. the trolley had a rope attached and was quite blatantly pulled off by one of the schoolgirls (this was a school produdion after all). With careful lighting, and by plaCing Daisy's suitcase in front of it, the trolley was not seen until the crucial moment. This was well received every performance and fre quently got a "hand". Sound This was mainly routine needing a steam train, wind and storm and some snatches of music. Unwilling to avoid the obvious, owls were often heard at night and a dawn chorus at first light. A rather elderly piano was used to record the hymns and school song to achieve that "speech day" quality. Fifteen minutes of suitably uplifting piano was also recorded to use as pre-play. This included such pieces as "Rose of England" and "Jerusalem". A theatre member provided an alternative setting for the school song. Since this was a putative "school produdion" played to parents and friends, the verse of the school song was printed in the programme and the audience required to sing it as part of the final curtain. 0
SHEPPERTON PLAYERS present
The Lion In Winter by James Goldman at the Riverside Arts Centre
19-21st October 1989 at 8pm
Box Office: M. Millinger 0932 851323
Bryan Ferriman discusses his production of Daisy Pulls It Off for the Talisman Theatre Company, Kenilworth