We live in an era brimming with musical adaptations of teen classics, from Heathers to Bring It On, and Leeds University’s Music Theatre Society has decided that the next ideal source for jaunty school uniform choreography and songs celebrating teenage angst is 2007 cult classic St Trinian’s.
The filmed version of The Girls of St Trinian’s, which was available to stream online as part of the Edinburgh Fringe, is a simplified yet faithful adaptation of the original’s plot, surrounding an underfunded girls’ school and the girls’ attempts to save it by winning a University Challenge-style quiz show. With a runtime of only around fifty minutes, it still manages to preserve the original film’s anarchic yet somewhat innocent spirit.
Here are all the traditional hallmarks of female teenage rebellion—hiked-up skirts and goth fashion stylings, rival cliques and even a visual reference to the Mean Girls Burn Book—but amongst these teen drama tropes is the original schoolgirls’ unabashed pride in their underdog identity. The rudimentary yet enthusiastically performed choreography helps transfer this spirit of St Trinian’s to a musical format, as do the chaotic chants of ‘St. T for life’ and ‘Sisters before Misters’ which populate the score.
The original’s sense of camp is also admirably replicated—the tradition of the Headmistress (unnamed, like all the show’s characters) being played by a man in drag is pleasingly continued by George Marlin, though his show-stopping numbers such as ‘I Want To Be A Dancer’ could have commanded more stage presence. The show’s answer to Gemma Arterton’s Head Girl (Lydia Duval), dressed more like a secretary from an 80s film than a high schooler, is very memorable, pairing ice cold head-bitch-in-charge with hypocritical 2010s girlboss feminism—highlights include confiscating one girl’s clothing order because “you don’t need to dress up for no man”, only for that girl to cry “now I look like shit”. Her solo number is one of the more introspective moments of the show, and one wishes her enemies-to-friends arc with Dalia Kay’s New Girl could have been more developed within the runtime.
The musical’s book and lyrics, composed by Em Humble and Joseph Callaghan, are an enjoyable balance between playfulness and feminist messages that avoid feeling preachy. There is some good-spirited skewering of all-male reading lists and “men blaming their downfall on women they can’t have”, as well as white, male, conservative dominance in government, though one feels as though the somewhat ambiguous term “government academy” could have been substituted for the simpler “private school”, as this is what is obviously being satirised.
There are also some overly facile lyrics that could have been tightened up (the enthusiastically chanted but bland “education, women’s rights/we’re not done, we have to fight”), as well as some slightly lazy references to West End hits like Six and Hamilton. However, these are balanced by more relevant allusions, such as to Rishi Sunak’s comments about the arts sector.
The musical differs from its source material most significantly in its ending; rather than the girls saving the school with a madcap robbery of Girl With A Pearl Earring from the National Gallery, this ending is more realistic and more heartfelt. None of the girls’ best-laid plans pay off, but the Headmistress, her loyal secretary, and her rival-slash-erstwhile lover, are able at the eleventh hour to save the school. In this way, the show is less about hijinks than it is about the solidarity shared by underdogs and the importance of compassion towards them—the message of the original film, and one that rings true today.
Words by Clementine Scott.
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