Friday, 26 July 2019
Darrel, Sally, Alicia, Gwendoline and Irene were, for a long time, some of my favourite book characters. I grew up eagerly reading about these girls and their adventures, so it was with great excitement that I went to watch this on-stage adaptation of 'Malory Towers'. It did not disappoint. From the offset it was a performance full of good-humour and fun, with bouncy musical numbers that left me tapping my feet.
As soon as I stepped through the door of the theatre I was transported into the world of 'Malory Towers'. The passenger shed was magically transformed into a stage, transporting the audience to classrooms, dorm rooms, and hallways where the importance of friendship, keeping one’s temper and remaining true to oneself were wonderfully displayed. Throughout the evening the cast sought to involve the audience in their production, drawing them effortlessly into the action by consistently breaking down the fourth wall and engaging directly with each age group through their jokes and dialogue. Whilst there were countless moments to entertain the younger members of the audience, there were also plenty of moments that left the adult members' laughing and cheering too.
The music was an aspect of Emma Rice's 'Malory Towers' adaptation that surprised and excited me. Every single one of the cast got a chance to demonstrate their exemplary musical talents singing in a wide variety of styles. To accompany this, they performed a wide variety of dance numbers, including ballet and tap. This constant switching between styles, meant each song or dance could perfectly reflect the mood, creating a performance where there was never a moment of boredom or needless repetition.
Emma Rice effectively delivered a performance that brought to life everyone's favourite school-girl characters, remaining true to Enid Blyton's vision of the girls, whilst adding her own twists and turns. Along with the rest of the production team, and the cast, Emma created a performance that was thought provoking, inspiring and ultimately just a lot of fun! Perfect for all generations, I strongly encourage anyone who can to go along and experience the wonders of 'Malory Towers'.
Often when I go to review performances at the Bristol Old Vic I am unsure what to expect, all I know in advance is the title and occasionally the cast. Other than that, I am left completely in the dark until the lights dim, the curtain rises and the play begins. Sometimes at this point I am greeted by a performance satisfactory but not altogether overwhelming. Rarely am I left disappointed. Occasionally I am presented with a gem of theatrical genius, thought provoking, amusing and emotional all rolled into one. 'Summer Rolls' definitely falls into this later category.
As soon as the music began for the opening act, I knew that what I was about to watch would remain with me for a long time. Over the next two hours I was held spell-bound as I watched the story of a Vietnamese family living in the UK unfold. The play follows Mai, an intelligent and creative young girl, as she struggles to come to terms with her life as a second generation-immigrant. Additionally, her family guard her from wounds and secrets of a war-torn Vietnam that she is too young to remember, creating divides between Mai and those she loves. Family, relationships, racism, war, generational differences are all themes tackled by this performance, in a way that is sensitive and direct. 'Summer Rolls' effortlessly interweaves these themes with more comical elements, depicting the balance of life and providing a performance both entertaining and thought provoking.
In addition to the phenomenal plot, it was the cast who truly carried this production and brought it to life. Anna Nguyen, who played Mai, particularly stood out to me as she perfectly depicted a character who began as a young girl and grew into a woman. Through posture, tone and expression she displayed Mai as first the obstinate and inquisitive child, then the independent and creative teen, before finally the more quietly hopeful mature adult who sought to bring reconciliation to those affected by the war by telling their stories. Alongside Anna Nguyen, Linh-Dan Pham portrayed the hurt, strength and courage of a mother seeking to protect and assist her children. Her ability to manipulate the audience, making them laugh one minute and cry the next is statement to her talent as an actress and greatly added to my enjoyment of the performance as a whole.
If you get the chance 'Summer Rolls' is a performance that I strongly encourage you to go and watch. It begs us to ask the questions we often avoid, and confronts, head on, the power that war and hatred have to mar the beautiful, whilst showing the resilience and determination that can overcome these challenges.