The Utter Glory of Morrisey Hall
A Musical in Two Acts. Book by Clark Gesner and Nagle Jackson. Music and lyrics by Clark Gesner. Suggested by the film Belles of Saint Trinian's.
Opened and closed 13 May, 1979 at the Mark Hellinger Theatre after 1 performance.
Morrissey Hall is a girls school in England. It is not a very well-known school, or even an especially exceptional one. It is more your average, run-of-the-mill English girls school: noble. anonymous, persevering.
And the day on which we look into it is not very exceptional either if one is to judge anything from the reac tions of most of the schools occupants to the events going on, even though those events range all the way from passion, sorcery, bombs, slavery and dead chickens, up to eventu al all-out warfare. It makes one wonder what goes on the rest of the days.
That look into, by the way, is meant quite literally. The setting is a two storey cross-section of the school, showing the Headmistress' office, her secretary's office, the school's central corridor, and two dormitory rooms upstairs. The actions weave in and out of these places, tangling with each other, and eventually forming a complex web of misunderstanding. misinformation, over reaction and counter productive countermeasures. It is a normal day. We learn this following the Overture, a piece which sounds strangely like every other light overture ever played by a school band, as cheerfully conducted by the school's grey-haired Director of Music.
Then the curtain is up, and we gradually become acquainted with the school's various activities and occupants, who soon join together in a sort of tense stroll in which they inform us that everything is just fine. Unfortunately, their quivering ankles and taut smiles make it a little difficult wholly to believe them.
The day has hardly begun when Headmistress, Julia Faysle reads in a journal an unflattering remark about the quality of girls produced by her school. This immediately sets her off into a verbal defence, , which at least makes us feel better, if nothing else. The Sixth Form. however—the older girls of the school—mistake her subsequent concern for their health and grooming as being a sign that they are all about to be sold into slavery. The Fifth Form—arch enemies of the Sixth—in turn find the Sixth's, newest behaviour very strange and prepare their own defences. In the midst of all this (literally) sits the Headmistress' secretary, Elizabeth Wilkins. She attempts to convey to the audience that she is indeed not any part of this madhouse. She then returns to her duties. The Headmistress, meanwhile, and her faculty chum, Foresta Studley get carried away with jolly memories of their own girlhood at Morrissey Hall. And The Arts continue to flourish as Mona Delmonde and her dancing class trip lightly in to perform.
A letter arrives. It is for Helen Wells-Morton who reads into it all the passion and drama that only a highly romantic adolescent child find in an otherwise quite plain little note from her boyfriend. Charles. The letter does, however, contain a key, and when a trunk arrives for Helen, Headmistress Faysle uses all her wiles to try to get the key so she can open and inspect the trunk . When it is finally opened, Charles leaps out and escapes to the upper reaches of the school. Early on in all this, a salesman. Richard Tidewell, arrived to see the Headmistress. He has waited patiently in the outer office with Miss \Wilkins for most of the Act, but now he must go. It is only when the door is shut between him and Elizabeth that we realise that true love can blossom anywhere, even in the midst of Morrissey Hall on a normal day.
In Act Two, after a calming Interlude, and an exhausting Gallop (calisthenics to wear the girls out), we discover what has transpired during the intermission. The Fifth Form, in a history competition, has won a Bumper Car ride, and the huge amusement park contraption is now set rip on the campus. The Sixth Form is livid. The school loves the ride. Retaliation is obviously demanded. While Mrs. Delmonde rehearses a St. George and the Dragon pageant, the Bumper Car is attacked. It is obviously the beginning of the end.
Miss Winkle, faculty leader of the Fifth Form and now drunk with power as commander of the Bumper Car, whips her young charges into a militaristic furor as the Sixth, led by Felicia Carswell, offer their nun comments on the situation.
It has obviously been too much for the Headmistress. She has, since the beginning of the Act, been sequestered in her office, seeing nobody, and having a lovely, quiet time pressing flowers and arranging them in an album. She is at peace. Helen, too, has found her dear if slightly reluctant Charles, and even manages to get him to sing with her on matters of the heart. But it is all too late. The Fifth and Sixth have been arming themselves from mail order catalogues. and even the Headmistress' perennial optimism, seems tentative to say the least, just prior to the outbreak of full scale, all-school, hell-bent-for-leather War.
But adolescent passions are often subject to sudden change, and the surprise visit of a school inspector instantly galvanises the faculty and students into at least the semblance of a calm, peaceful, hardworking educational institution. The Sixth Form graduates and life goes on. And that does seem to be the glory of such a place: that in spite of everything—the heartrending, overwhelming odds—they do, always and ever, go on.