You’d be hard pressed to find a sweeter more superficially innocent tale than ‘The Young Visiters’, written by precocious nine-year-old Daisy Ashford. It was published in 1890 with her original grammatical and spelling mistakes for comic effect but the most fun comes from how it’s rippled with the petit-bourgeois snobberies and received information of her home-schooled upbringing.

She seems like a middle-aged head on young shoulders and whether her commentaries stem from parents or her governesses, they’re firmly entrenched and she moralises as sternly (and from the same virginal standpoint) as Ann Widdecombe over her young heroine, Ethel ‘Monticue’ who deserts loyal friend Mr Salteena for social climbing through dalliance with ‘Lord’ Bernard Clark and a brush with the Prince of Wales.

It’s great that Mary Franklin of Rough Haired Pointer has adapted it for the stage and undoubtedly the talented company realise the characters so splendidly and each with a vigorous three-dimensional depth they don’t have on the page. As with most novels of childhood, you get a firm and fixed impression of how you see them in your mind’s eye and a stage version can be contradictory, but I thought Tom Richards was wholly convincing and engaging as the put-upon Mr Salteena and wore both his top hat and his serial disappointments lightly.

Andrew Brock is on the finest of form as the chinlessly bombastic Earl of Clincham and the scenes in his ‘compartments’ at the Crystal Palace where he instructs Salteena in the manners of the gentility have Wildean undertones and are slyly brilliant.

Toby Osmond plays Bernard Clark as a bold seducer and gauche host with a highly accomplished lip-curling combination of Dick Dastardly and Omar Sharif which he sustains throughout without ever becoming cartoonish. Perhaps I found Marianne Chase’s Ethel Monticue a shade too robust for Ashford’s romantic embodiment of girlish innocence, and she flashes her knickerbockers more often than Ashford (or Widdecombe) would approve, but it’s a spirited performance which drives the action along and her progressive addiction to rouge is a neat running gag.

The ensemble are every bit the equal of the principals and you forget this is a cast of only seven, excellent contribution from Leo Marcus Wan as a series of irreverent footmen and a princely courtesan who could almost have had her own show.

The scene is draped with curtains which must once have graced an impressive drawing room. William Morris-wallpapered panels and a doorway are shape-shifted by the energetic cast into railway carriages, hansom cabs, palaces, punts and the shady hallways of the ‘Gaierty Hotel’ where love and social mobility are pursued with equal vigour.

The threads of the story are knitted together by Sophie Crawford’s narration which is well done but emphasises the fact that Franklin’s adaptation depends too heavily on simply reading the novel aloud and I wished she’d visualised a version in which Daisy’s family and friends were incorporated into the staging so one could see how her characters were drawn from life. Scene changes are covered with rather random snatches of classical music but as the 1890s were the height of popularity for light operetta and music hall songs, they might have been more in keeping with the period.

Remote GoatOriginally published on RemoteGoat.com