Sunday, April 3, 2011

Susan's School Play

Susan's School Play was originally published in the Collins' Girls' Annual 1957 and is unusual in two ways. First of all, it was published about a year before readers saw Susan going to St. Ronan's for the first time in Susan at School; and, secondly, it is the only Susan story told in the first person, by Midge. But in spite of this difference in style, the story is as good as any other story in the series, be it a novel or a short story, and is lavishly illustrated. It was obviously very popular when first published because it was reprinted a couple of years later in the Crackerjack Girls' Own Book. And, of course, it is anthologized in Susan and Friends. The reason for the erratic chronology is that it was after the publication of Susan's School Play that Jane Shaw suggested a school novel to her publishers. Up to that point, all the Susan stories had been about holidays or set in Wichwood Village. The publishers requested at least four, and the author decided to start at the beginning, with Susan's first day at St. Ronan's. In the end, only two books were actually set at the school, the other being Susan's Trying Term. The opening scenes of Where is Susan? and A Job for Susan take place at St. Ronan's, but as the school story was on the way out in the late fifties and early sixties, no more full length tales of this genre were added to the series.
The story begins with Midge and Susan receiving a letter from Aunt Lucy with the devastating news that Selina Gascoigne and her awful son Peregrine will be accompanying her to St. Ronan's on 20th December to see the girls perform in The Tempest. No sooner has Peregrine arrived than he begins to get on the girls' nerves with his dreadful behaviour. Here we have a rare glimpse of Aunt Lucy and an equally rare look at Selina Gascoigne. One of the main beefs that the Carmichaels and Susan have with Mrs. Gascoigne in the books from the 1950s and early 1960s is that she wears trousers, as is the case in this illustration.
To put an end to Pea-green's shenanigans, Susan concocts a plan: lure him into a shed on the other side of the school grounds with a big tin of of cakes and sandwiches and bolt the door. However, Matron is running a tight ship today...
Yes, getting past Matron is going to be harder than she expected...
Susan finally takes to the stage as Juno.
But Pea-green has escaped and is out to cause trouble! The audience think this is all part of the show and howl with laughter. A fracas ensues and Susan pursues Peregrine, who tries to hide under the rickety makeshift stage. During the final act, he dislodges one of the shaky improvised supports and the stage collapses under the weight of Midge and the other ballerinas.
To the delight of all present, Lord Dulwich announces that after the day's hilarious events it is obvious that the school needs a new hall with a proper stage. A little in-joke here. Dulwich is the real name of Wichwood Village, where the Carmichaels live!