also published as Dancing Shoes
[Rachel has to accompany another child from stage school to an audition]
‘What ought I to wear, do you suppose?’ Rachel asked Mrs Storm while Dulcie was out of the room. ‘Is a studio a place where I’ll have to wear my Wonder’s uniform?’
Mrs Storm had no idea what Mrs Wintle would have answered to that, but she knew her own feelings.
‘For goodness’ sake don’t, wear what you like, nobody’s going to look at you.’
What Rachel liked was an orange woollen frock, one of the dresses which Uncle Tom had designed for her. Over it she put on a brown coat. She did not wear a hat. Under her arm she carried her favourite book, The Wind in the Willows, which she knew from experience was wonderful for making time disappear.
‘Very nice too’ said Mrs Storm approvingly when she saw Rachel. ‘Those colours suit you.’
commentary: As I’m always saying, the clothes are wonderful in Streatfeild books, nobody does it better, and what you wear to an audition is known to be particularly important. In this case there is a marked contrast between the outfit above and what Rachel had to wear for a previous audition:
[The Wonders’] audition dresses had been designed to make the children look younger than they were, so it was not a kind dress to many of them. They were made of seersucker, very full without a waistline, with frills on the shoulder and round the bottom.
Rachel is going to the studio just because there is no-one to look after her at home: the other (horrible) child, Dulcie, is apparently a shoo-in for the part. Any Streatfeild fan will guess what is going to happen…
I explained in two earlier entries why I thought this was such an unusual book, and why I liked it so much. It is much more cynical and cool than the whole of the recent Babbacombe’s, which was a book for adults supposedly.
And there are few scenes in any of Noel S’s books to match the heart-breaking moment where Rachel is going for an audition, and her sister Hilary (they are unloved orphans) is trying to make her ‘look as if more trouble had been taken over her than any of the others’ even though Rachel doesn’t suit that blooming dress, and doesn’t come close to getting the part. Dulcie openly laughs at her, and it is a dreadful, painful moment. So, when Hilary slaps Dulcie, readers everywhere cheer loudly.
This one seems like all the other Streatfeild books (they are now all published in Shoes titles, as if they were a real series) but actually it is very different. And excellent.
I think the top pictures are probably what the dress did look like, but they are not the pictures I had in my head when I first read it – and I was a child who would have looked particularly awful in the frills dress. I too could imagine a really wonderful plain dress that suited Rachel (and of course me) and I wish I could find the right picture – but it probably exists only in my head, and the heads of every other Wintle’s Wonders reader who knew she was Rachel inside.
Another classic Streatfeild audition-clothes-panic here on the blog.
And this audition blogpost had the helpfully descriptive title ‘Gasp at the Dodie Smith heroine in her Bo Peep outfit’, and an unmissable picture.