Malory Towers Play: Why We Give A Fig For Boarding School Stories

For those of us who were enthralled by the adventures of Darrell and her friends at Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers, we have jolly spiffing news.

The famous author’s successful boarding school series is being made into a stage play by Emma Rice, no less.

The former artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe will be taking her show on a tour of the UK this summer.

Rice calls Malory Towers her “happy Lord of the Flies”, describing it as “joyfully radical to its bones”.

So why the enduring appeal of boarding schools in film, fiction and theatre?

Anna Smith, film critic, broadcaster and host of the podcast Girls On Film, says it’s partly down to the intense environment.

“Any story in a restricted setting – especially when everybody sleeps on site – has the opportunity for enhanced drama and tension, whether it’s a school, a prison or a hotel.

“From midnight feasts to illicit hook-ups to smuggling to bullying, all these make for great drama.”

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And fictional boarding schools can provide an escape for young film-goers and readers, from Daisy Pulls It Off to Tom Brown’s School Days and Goodbye Mr Chips.

“It’s only natural that children will fantasise about escape and (relatively) independent living, however happy their home lives. I suppose only children or those in fairly remote locations (as I was) might find the idea appeals more.”

Not all boarding school experiences are as fun in real life as we might imagine them to be, and Smith suggests there’s a nostalgic element that draws us in to the fantasy version of such institutions.

Rice recently directed an adaptation of Angela Carter’s novel Wise Children at the Old Vic

“It’s probably more to do with the books we read when we were young, like Malory Towers, that presented a rosy version of reality. I wonder if Edith Blyton’s kids had a better or worse time at boarding school than their counterparts on the page?”

(Blyton’s daughters went to the boarding school that inspired Malory Towers, Benenden School, as did Princess Anne).

But Alex Antscherl, editorial director for Enid Blyton at Hachette Children’s Group has a different views: “I don’t think we’re only enjoying boarding school stories for nostalgic reasons.

“There is something very attractive about the strength of friendships that can grow between children when they live together, especially if they must rely on each other when facing cruelty or disappointment or difficulty.

“What so many readers love about the Malory Towers books (and Enid Blyton’s other boarding school series, St Clare’s and The Naughtiest Girl) is how the pupils draw together into a closely knit, loving, self-governing community.”

For Rice, focusing on the tale of a girls-only boarding school made her evaluate her own mother’s experience of education and the underlying feminism in the storylines.

Benenden School was the inspiration for Malory Towers

“I don’t know how they [Rice’s grandparents] managed it on a railway worker’s pay, but my mother was sent to a remote grammar school in Dorset: Lord Digby’s School for Girls.

“Whilst not a boarding school, Lord Digby’s was an extraordinary place of learning that changed my mother’s and, by extension, my own life.”

She says her adaptation of Malory Towers “is dedicated to the generation of women who taught in schools” in the aftermath of World War Two (the first Malory Towers book was published in 1946).

“With lives shaped by the savagery of two wars, these teachers devoted themselves to the education and nurture of other women.


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