The Victorian Child's Eye View Of The World Which Became A Bestseller

'The Young Visiters' has now been adapted for the stage at the Tabard Theatre

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Theatre group Rough Haired Pointer's Mary Franklin might never have adapted The Young Visiters for the stage if she hadn't been given the novel as a child by her grandmother.

The book by nine-year old Daisy Ashford was published in 1919 and it's comedic look at the world of the late 19th century upper-class, complete with idiosyncratic spellings, became a classic.

The comedy of manners which is a child’s-eye-view of the adult world, was championed by J.M. Barrie, amongst others. It was published 28 years after it was written and was a huge success.

the cast of The young visiters at the Tabard Theatre

Rough Haired Pointer (Diary of a Nobody, Fred & Madge) have revived their adaptation of this cult book at The Tabard Theatre for four weeks only.

The plot tells the story of Mr. Salteena, a very elderly gentleman (aged 42!), who is “fond of digging in the garden and parshial to ladies if they are nice”. At the "sumpshous" house of Lord Bernard Clark, Mr. Salteena hopes he will be helped up the social ladder's scale and win the heart of Ethel Monticue. But in the end, class prevails and the handsome and rich character wins her heart.

But what was it that drew Mary Frankin's attention to The Young Visiters in the first place?

"All our plays have a comic take and this is a masterpiece of comic literature and shows such an inventive imagination. My granny gave it to me when I was a child and when I was at home thinking about what play I could adapt, I spotted it somewhere and thought 'that's it'."

image of writer Daisy Ashford

Image from the US Library of Congress - George Grantham Bain collection

Part of the novel's appeal is the range of misspelling by the young author but Franklin did not find this difficult to translate to the stage.

"Strangely enough, her spelling is actually phonetic, and there are quite a few members of the team who are dyslexic and who find that the words as they are spelled make perfect sense to them."

"Daisy must have been a very astute child as the novel is all about class and the aspiration of Mr. Salteena, who is trying to better himself. Mr. Salteena goes on a journey to capture the heart of a girl who is above his class, but in the end of course the handsome rich man wins the girl."

The child author approaches the question of class in a simplistic way, which makes it engaging and accessible for an audience.

"She uses romance as a plot device. But her vision of posh society remain true as a reflection of society today in many ways," says Mary Franklin.

Daisy Ashford (1881-1972) was a precocious Victorian child, who dictated her first story, The Life of Fr Mc Swiney, at the age of four. She wrote several other stories and a play but stopped writing in her teens. The family moved to Lewes, and then Bexhill and she worked as a secretary in London. After her marriage to James Devlin, she settled in Norfolk and ran a hotel for some years.

Daisy Ashford did not continue her writing career her adult life. But the success of her earlier stories, particularly The Young Visiters, has continued to find resonance with modern readers.

The Young Visiters is at the Tabard Theatre until 26 March. The number for the box office is 020 8995 6035 or tickets can be purchased on the Tabard Theatre's web site.

March 4, 2016

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