Malory Towers, Wise Children/York Theatre Royal, at York Theatre Royal, school term ends on Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

EMMA Rice’s new company Wise Children made their York debut in March with Angela Carter’s Wise Children. Now they return for an all-too-short stay, more the length of a school half-term break, with Rice’s adaptation of Enid Blyton’s “original post-war Girl Power story, the naughty, nostalgic and perfect for now Malory Towers”; her “happy Lord Of The Flies”, as Rice calls it.

She read Enid Blyton stories, Famous Five and Secret Seven capers but not Malory Towers, in her contrasting, inner-city Nottingham comprehensive schooldays in the 1970s, but now finds herself drawn back to the Cornish clifftops she knew so well in her Kneehigh theatre days.

This Cornwall is the Blyton Cornwall of the 1950s: school days with midnight feasts and an outdoor swimming pool, when “lucky girls have the chance... to be returned back to the world sensible, sound and strong... women that the world can lean on”.

To emphasise the stories are “perfect for now”, Rice opens with a modern-day school setting, with doors to the headmaster and welfare officer’s offices and the children portraying the same characteristics as they will once they morph into their Malory Towers selves, brought about as if in a dream once Rose Shalloo has been hit hard on the head with a copy of Malory Towers.

Later this will be mirrored by the Malory Towers pupils enacting a fairy world scene from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, although that scene, beautifully performed, feels a tad self-indulgent.

Rice is a director who has you smiling from the bouncy, energetic start, as Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing sets the ball rolling for a series of delightful songs, some originals by Ian Ross, others takes on Edith Piaf, Sammy Fain and Pat Ballard’s Mr Sandman.

One by one, Rice lets the new Malory Towers intake introduce themselves as the “deliciously naughty”, corny joke-loving second-year pupil Alicia Johns (Renee Lamb) welcomes them on to the Paddington train bound for Cornwall. We meet Shalloo’s nervy, apologetic Mary Lou Atkinson; Rebecca Collingwood’s beastly Gwendoline Lacey; Francesca Mills’s proper, prim and pucker Sally Hope and Izuka Hoyle’s hot-tempered, fierce-hearted Darrell Rivers.

Mirabelle Gremaud’s musical, free-spirited, harp-playing Irene Dupont is a vital voice, and along for the ride too comes Vinnie Heaven’s horse-loving Bill Robinson, whose late arrival adds an air of mystery.

All is conducted at a fair old lick, aided by Lez Brotherston’s typically witty set and costume designs , with beds used wonderfully in Alistair David’s choreography. Crucial to the show’s visual and verbal humour is Simon Baker’s sound and video design and Beth Carter and Stuart Mitchell’s dream sequence animation.

From the rail route graphics to Bill’s heroic horse, from a swimming pool scene with Busby Berkeley swimsuit panache to a “Cliffhanger” punchline to end the first half, from a chalkboard to the shadow-puppet figure of headmistress Miss Grayling (voiced by Sheila Hancock, no less), Malory Towers keeps delighting with its imagery.

Amid Blyton’s high jinks, high drama and high spirits, the performances from Rice’s ever so diverse cast are bursting with personality and individuality. It feels wrong to pick out anyone, but Mills’s Sally Hope earns top marks.

Rice adds her own touches to the script, be it a Jackson Pollock reference or the damaging, life-altering effect of the war on a father. It all adds to the joy, compassion and inclusivity of this fabulous show.

On Friday will come news of a third collaboration between Wise Children and York Theatre Royal, this one with a Yorkshire core and National significance in 2020. Watch this space.