30th June 2019
Trinity Theatre, Cowes, Isle of Wight
Author: Christine Blow
A run-down Gothic building houses the Gwendolen Kyte School for Girls. This light-hearted drama, set in the 1960s, centres on the eight teachers, the Headmistress, a cook and a secretary whose job role also includes that of nurse, accountant, acting head and stand-in teacher. The staff, an odd assortment of social misfits and eccentrics, are also spinsters. Some are beyond retirement age.
At the start of a new academic year they are faced with a lack of accommodation, with the need to share rooms, no food having been delivered and a collapsed ceiling. Add to that a distraught Head whose beloved dog, Trixie, has disappeared leaving her incapable of chairing a meeting to resolve any other more urgent issues. Into this mayhem enters a surprise guest in the form of a school inspector. His mission is to follow up complaints of the school being old fashioned, out-moded, overcrowded and unsafe plus the accusation that staff members are drunk or insane.
A warm welcome was received from the front of house and bar staff and there was a good atmosphere despite the low attendance.
The programme displayed an ivy-clad Gothic building on the front cover. Inside there was a long article on the writer, Jimmie Chinn.
The set, comprising the school staff room, was excellent and it was obvious that a great deal of thought and preparation had gone into the design with the lack of tabs enabling the whole stage to be filled. The mis-matched chairs were strewn with knitted blankets and assorted cushions. The perfectly placed picture of old Mrs Flyte, the founder of the school, prominently overseeing all staff room activities was a lovely touch. The ubiquitous slightly wilted and neglected plant, a feature of most staff rooms, was perfect. The box containing gym equipment, the cluttered desk, trophies and assorted paraphernalia were also great additions and so reminiscent of a school staff room from that, or maybe any, era.
As a child of the 60’s I can testify that the teachers' costumes were ‘spot on’. As frumpy spinsters, who had given their lives to teaching, all looked totally authentic. From the elegant Carolyn Ferguson (Miss D’Vere) in her navy spotted, belted dress to Ginnie Orrey (Miss McBain) in her flat black lace-ups, thick brown tights, tweed skirt and permed white hair, the attention to detail was superb. Mo White’s (Mrs Godfrey) headscarf was delightfully comic. Vicki Quilter’s (Miss Duke) clothes and hair were a good contrast to the femininity of her close friend, Miss D’Vere.
The large cast of eleven had obviously succeeded in bringing everything together as their performances, without exception, seemed natural and effortless. The characterization from all cast members was excellent and enabled the audience to become acquainted with the characters before the plot began to unfold. This managed to keep the audience guessing until the denouement. It was also, throughout, a moving depiction of female relationships. Well done to all.
Mo White (Mrs Godfrey) as the nosey, gossiping, hard done by cook turned her potentially minor part into some scene stealers with her comic timing, facial expressions and movement both in and out and across the stage. Ellen Weeks (Miss Bickerstaff) was perfect as the overworked, bustling, stressed workaholic charging around waving her spectacles. Carolyn Ferguson (Miss D’Vere) never fails to disappoint with her clear diction, intonation and facial expressions. She is a natural. Vicki Quilter (Miss Duke) did not overplay her strong character and handled the intimation of a lesbian relationship subliminally. Cheryl May (Miss Pink) was an excellent drama queen who used her comic lines to great effect. Carole Crowe (Miss Kyte) conveyed a great mix of authority and despair. She was believable in her speech about how the school was her responsibility, a ‘legacy’ from her mother. Her heartfelt claim to be ‘sick and tired’ of her life at the school was a clear indication of how her mother had controlled her. The dialogue between her and Miss Bickerstaff about how she felt life was ‘passing her by’ with the response that ‘we do it for the girls’ was superb and very moving. Pete Harris (Mr Smith) looking debonair, maintained his air of authority throughout. One can only be glad that he survived all of those women!
This was extremely entertaining and enjoyable, worthy of a much larger audience than the 30 plus theatregoers. However on a very warm Sunday afternoon, with the County Show on offer, the CAODS were up against stiff competition. However, in my opinion, I made the better choice.
Congratulations to the whole team. Director, Gwen Stevens, clearly brought out the best from her talented cast. The backstage staff should also take credit for the excellent costumes and set.