Saving Graces at St Mabel's

It might be difficult to see why someone would bother writing a comedy pastiche of a girls’ boarding school when a perfectly good one already exists in Daisy Pulls It Off. However, this piece of new writing by Piers Todd, college librarian of Cheltenham Ladies’ College, is a fun romp tailored to the abilities of this group of lower sixth formers. The tale, set in the 1960s, is about a rag-tag group of misfits at St Mabel’s School for Girls who face the demolition of their beloved Runwell House. The girls are forced to pull together in order to overcome the evil Toffish House and save their home away from home.

The writing is very good: there are plenty of funny gags and outlandish characters.

The writing is very good: there are plenty of funny gags and outlandish characters. It’s a shame that the comic acting of some of the girls fails to take advantage of the script. In most cases they don’t ham their lines up enough, meaning that some of the sillier jokes lose their innate humour. In a few cases, the performers’ diction was also a little weak, making it difficult to catch some of the lines. For the most part though, the girls’ accents – from flat RP to truly plummy – are spot on.

Kat Maxse is every inch the self-obsessed Head of House, while Phoebe O’Hara successfully multi-roles as the pretentious Electra and the wicked toff Penelope. Katherine Robson’s insecure Ingratia also shines. The trio – along with Izzy Girling’s Miss Cumbersome – put in some excellent comedic performances as an ensemble. Helena Hughes’ understated new girl, Belladonna, also deserves a mention, serving as an effective foil for the larger-than-life personalities. The set is simple but effective; the use of suitcases and blackboards really adds to the feel of the boarding school. On this occasion, the entire cast showed a great deal of professionalism in carrying on when some technical issues threatened the worst.

Even if the show’s characters are nothing more than stock (nerd, fashionista, self-reinventor, poet), the group’s camaraderie is still heartening to watch. There’s never really a moment where it isn’t obvious what the show’s resolution will be, but the ghost story running parallel to the main plot does add in some interest. Still, the tale might have been a little more intriguing if the antagonists had shown a little more grit; Penelope and Prudence have nothing on Daisy’s conniving Monica and Sybil.

Saving Graces at St Mabel’s is a perfectly enjoyable mid-afternoon production. Its virtues are somewhat limited, but its disarmingly chummy character will not fail to charm.

Reviews by Larry Bartleet

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The Blurb

It’s 1964 and life at St Mabel’s Academy for Young Ladies revolves around straw boaters, lacrosse practice and midnight feasts – and there’s even a secret passage to the boys’ school! But when faced with the jolly serious threat of dormitory demolition, the pupils enlist the help of an Old Girl to concoct a plan. Will they manage to save their boarding house and stay together? A topping new comedy by Piers Todd, capturing the essence of British boarding school life - Enid Blyton meets Daisy Pulls it off! Performed by Cheltenham Ladies' College.