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Literature / Stage School

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The seven books in the series

Stage School is a British middle grade book series by Lyn Gardner, revolving around tween Olivia Marvell, her younger sister Eel and her friends at her grandmother's Swan Academy of Theatre and Dance.

Olivia, a Circus Brat, returns to London with her sister and widowed father. The Marvells are left penniless after patriarch Jack Marvell suffers a Career-Ending Injury, and the girls must live with their maternal grandmother Alicia Swan, the owner of a prestigious stage school for children aged 7-16. Olivia is not at all thrilled to drop tightrope-walking and learn the "proper" performing arts, since, unlike her sister, a gifted dancer, she has no West End-worthy talents. Can the school's Black Sheep find her place at the Swan, and will Tightrope Walking help her in this endeavour?

The series is comprised of seven books:

Olivia's First Term
Olivia Flies High
Olivia and the Movie Stars
Olivia's Enchanted Summer
Olivia's Winter Wonderland
Olivia and the Great Escape
Olivia's Curtain Call

The series displays examples of the following tropes:

     Olivia's First Term 
  • Abandoned Area: The building next to the school is this. It briefly becomes plot-relevant in the second half of the book.
  • Accomplice by Inaction: Olivia calls Georgia out on letting Katie push her around and bully other people without speaking up against the Alpha Bitch.
  • Adorably Precocious Child: Eel, especially when she introduces herself with her full name.
  • Alliterative Name: One of the rehearsal spaces at The Swan is called The Sondheim Space, after Stephen Sondheim, an alliterative-named creator himself.
  • Alone in a Crowd: During assembly towards the middle of the book, Alicia Swan observes that Olivia is 'standing close to the rest of her form and yet somehow completely detached from them'.
  • Aloof Big Sister: Olivia sometimes comes off as this to Eel.
  • Alpha Bitch: Katie Wilkes-Cox. In keeping with her father's teachings, she treats her classmates as rivals and would do anything to survive in the 'cut-throat' show-business. She is certainly not above physically injuring other children to get a solo, and threatens Georgia and Olivia on a daily basis.
  • Anti-Nepotism: Despite being the Marvell sisters' grandmother, Headmistress Alicia Swan never gives them any special treatment based on their family connection.
    • Averted with the fact that the girls skip the long audition process, and only Eel has demonstrated remarkable talent before being accepted into the Swan, which is notorious for its tough and rigorous auditions.
  • Backstabbing the Alpha Bitch: Georgia is reluctantly a part of Katie's posse, not being brave enough to speak against her - until the very end, that is. In the end, she finally reveals how Katie has been threatening her and what she's done to others.
  • Bad Mood as an Excuse: Olivia is often shown taking her frustration with the Swan out on Eel or her grandmother. She immediately regrets lashing out, though.
  • Berserk Button: Olivia gets upset whenever anyone (usually her grandmother) insults high-wire walking.
  • Best Friends: Olivia and Tom become this after he asks her to teach him tightrope walking and the two become a double act.
  • Big Secret: Olivia has been practising her tightrope walking in secret, which makes her look suspicious when precious items are continuously stolen from the practice room windowsill.
  • Book Dumb: Katie struggles academically, but is one of the most artistically gifted pupils at the Swan.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Well, not lazy, but Olivia just refuses to try acting, seeing it as an extension of lying. When she tries, she is brilliant at it, even being compared to her mother, who was an exceptional Shakespearean actress.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Pre-series, Jack manages to save his younger daughter from being hit by a car, but suffers an injury himself. He recovers physically, but not mentally, and no longer has the nerve to perform his tightrope act. Thanks to Olivia, he recovers by the end of the book and returns to his craft.
    • Alicia Swan, too, had her career cut short due to arthritis.
  • Catch the Conscience: Katie uses this trope to manipulate Georgia into doing what she tells her.
  • Cheerful Child: Eel is constantly dancing and jumping around in excitement, and is absolutely thrilled to be at the Swan.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Olivia's tightrope skills come in handy on two occasions in the second half of the book.
  • Circus Brat: Olivia and her sister Eel grow up in the circus, since both their parents are circus performers. At first they help out by selling tickets and programmes and doing small acrobatic tricks, but Olivia is later upgraded to a major part of the show as a tightrope acrobat.
  • Class Clown: Tom and William are a duo of class clowns, constantly cracking jokes and drawing attention, even during assembly, when they really shouldn't.
  • Contortionist: The first book mentions there was one at Jack Marvell's circus.
  • Cool Loser: Both Olivia and Georgia fall under this trope, mostly due to Katie's treatment of them.
  • Cool School: Well, not according to Olivia, but the Swan is definitely presented as this, with only the morning classes being traditional academia, and the afternoon classes being dedicated to performing arts, with students having the ability to choose the subjects they take.
  • Cool Teacher: Mr. Shaw, the acting teacher, goes out of his way to make sure Olivia doesn't fail his class, and takes her to see a production of Romeo and Juliet in an attempt to wake her interest in acting. He even gives her the book as a gift after the show. Also, there is a minor Running Gag where he keeps providing a crying Olivia with tissues.
  • Cram School: Despite being a Cool School, the Swan academy is also this, with a very demanding academic and vocational curriculum. Academic achievement is also taken into account when pupils are chosen for school shows as well as professional auditions.
  • Crossing the Burnt Bridge: Alicia Swan is upset with her son-in-law Jack for "stealing away" her daughter from her passion, acting. She even blames him for her passing. When they last spoke, she said she never wants to see him again. Now, Jack needs help providing for his daughters, and the two adults need to bury the hatchet in order to do right by the girls.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: An accident in the past broke Jack's spirit, causing him to give up tightrope walking for a long time.
  • Daddy Didn't Show: Georgia's mum is always very busy at work and rarely ever comes to Georgia's shows, which upsets her daughter greatly.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Tom. William also has his moments.
    Katie: When will you ever grow up?
    Wiliam: When he's had a few more birthdays.
  • Determinator: Toni Swan was this, according to Mr. Sebastian Shaw.
  • Disappeared Dad: Georgia's father is never seen nor mentioned.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Pablo appears episodically in this book before taking on a more important role in the next.
  • Elevator School: The Swan is this, accepting pupils from 7 to 16 years old.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Katie dubs Olivia 'Liver' and Tom 'Ginger' because of his hair colour.
  • Establishing Character Moment: When we first see them, Olivia is being serious and obstinate, and Eel is practically dancing through the streets.
  • Expy: Of Malory Towers. Olivia is Darrell, Katie is Gwendolyn and Georgia is Sally.
  • Family Business: The circus is this for the Marvells. Jack is the owner and tightrope performer, both his daughters take part in the shows, and their mother Toni abandoned her acting career to join Jack in the circus as well.
  • First Day from Hell: Olivia manages to get herself involved in school drama before the term has even begun, by witnessing Katie pushing Georgia and breaking her ankle in order to take her place in the newbies concert.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: At first, Eel and Olivia respectively. Later on, they begin to gravitate towards the opposite.
  • Frame-Up: Mid-book, it becomes clear that somebody has been stealing the jewellery that the pupils put on the windowsill during dancing class. Katie frames Olivia for it. It turns out a bird nesting on the neighbouring building is the thief.
  • Freudian Excuse: Sure, Katie is an awful person, but it takes one look at her parents (well, her father especially, since her mother is only mentioned in passing) to see why she is the way she is.
  • Gentle Touch vs. Firm Hand: Alicia Swan can be either, depending on the situation.
  • The Gift: Eel is a naturally gifted dancer. By the end of the book, she is also Talented, but Trained.
  • Girl Posse: As per the requirements of the trope, Alpha Bitch Katie is constantly surrounded by a swarm of girls, one of whom would rather have nothing to do with her.
  • Give Him a Normal Life: Jack leaves Olivia and Eel with their estranged grandmother in order to go off and try to regain 'the family fortunes'.
  • Gotta Pass the Class: Katie struggles to get her grades up when she is barred from participating in the Children's Royal Spectacular.
  • Grade Skipper: Eel, who is naturally talented at dancing, is at placed in Beginner Ballet along with Olivia, but quickly moves up two grades because of her great progress. Olivia, on the other hand, has no such luck.
  • Grew a Spine: Georgia has been pushed around by Katie for quite some time, only to stand up to her at the end of the book, finally mustering up the courage to do so.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Georgia is a blonde and definitely has a heart of gold, becoming one of Olivia's first friends.
  • Happy Ending: As can be expected from a middle grade book, by the end all the heroes get their happy ending in one way or another. Katie, the antagonist, not so much...
  • His Story Repeats Itself: In the climax of the book, what happens to Jack and Olivia is oddly reminiscent of a piece of their backstory.
  • Hot-Blooded: Olivia, big time. She is equally passionate for circus and disdainful towards the Swan and the performing arts, which causes her to lash out at her loved ones quite often.
  • I Can't Dance: Olivia is a surprisingly bad dancer for a talented tightrope walker. This is also lampshaded by Tom, who admits to not having believed she was good at tightrope walking with how bad of a dancer she is.
    Olivia: I can't dance. I won't dance.
  • Innocent Beta Bitch: Georgia is reluctant to be a part of Katie's gang, but puts up with her because, as established early on, she desperately wants to be popular.
  • Insecure Protagonist, Arrogant Antagonist: Olivia and Katie respectively.
  • Instant Fan Club: After she is seen highwire-walking, Olivia instantly gets one formed of pupils who want to learn the craft from her.
  • Jerkass: Mr. Wilkes-Cox, Katie's father. He is first introduced spluttering mud all over the Marvells, then tells his daughter to treat her classmates as rivals, not friends, and at the end [[spoiler: tries to bribe the headmistress into keeping his daughter, who doesn't fall too far from the tree, in the school after she has been caught in the wrong.
  • Jobless Parent Drama: The plot is induced by the fact that Jack Marvell is unemployed and penniless and has no means of providing for his family.
  • Master Actor: Katie Wilkes-Cox thinks she is this. Operating word: thinks.
  • Meaningful Name: Well, nickname. Eel acquired her nickname as a baby for being 'a wriggly little thing, never still for a minute'.
  • Missing Mum: Antonia 'Toni' Swan-Marvell passed away when Olivia was 5 and Eel was just a baby.
  • New Transfer Student: Eel and Olivia are this at the Swan academy.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Eel's full name is Alicia Rosalind Ophelia Marvell, but nobody ever calls her Alicia.
    • The Marvell's mother Toni is actually named Antonia, but she is only referred to as such once.
  • Predatory Business: This is how Mr. Wilkes-Cox views show-business.
  • Posthumous Character:
  • Scholarship Student: Georgia is offered a scholarship mid-book because her mother struggles to pay the tuition fees.
  • School Idol: Older student Abbie Cardew is one of the rising stars of the school and admired by most everyone at school.
  • School of No Studying: Strongly averted with the Swan. Academic achievement is just as important as achievement in vocational classes, and that is very important.
  • School Play: The pupils put on the so-called 'newbie concert' before the first day of term to welcome the new pupils into the school.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Mr. Wilkes-Cox' attitude towards everything in life. When his daughter Katie is caught in the wrong and threatened with expulsion, he first threatens to sue the school, then outright attempts to bribe the headmistress - unsuccessfully.
  • Secret-Keeper: Eel and Tom keep Olivia's secret that she's secretly practising her tightrope walking in a rarely used practice room.
  • Shout-Out: The book mentions a variety of Shakespeare's plays (such as Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, Macbeth, Hamlet, etc.) and musical theatre classics (such as Wicked, The Sound of Music, Oliver!, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Secret Garden, etc.)
    • Mary Poppins gets a shout-out when Eel describes Abbie as 'practically perfect in every way'.
    • The Marvell sisters' names are Olivia Juliet Viola Marvell and Alicia Rosalind Ophelia Marvell.
    • Probably unintentional, but Olivia's parents being circus performers is reminiscent of The Acrobat and the Escapist from Matilda.
    • Again, probably unintentional, since the above mentioned musical is not referenced once in the book, but the 'Miracle' sequence is a good description of how the Wilkes-Cox family treat their daughter Katie.
  • Siblign Yin Yang: Olivia is often sulky and bad-tempered, or serious at best, while Eel is perpetually cheerful and excited.
  • Spoiled Brat: Katie is quickly established as this in her very first scene. Her parents think she is the best and are ready to literally buy her starring roles and solos, and pay her way out of punishment and expulsion. This causes her to be an entitled brat and treat everyone else like rubbish.
  • Starving Student: Georgia is afraid she might have to leave the school as her mother struggles with paying for her tuition.
  • Successful Sibling Syndrome: During their first term at the Swan, Olivia fails to display any special talent in the performing arts, being particularly helpless at dance, while this is precisely where her younger sister Eel shines. Olivia is still taking beginner ballet by the end of the term, while Eel promptly moves two grades up.
  • Tagalong Kid: While she has friends of her own, Eel sometimes hangs out with her 5-years-older sister Olivia and her friends, especially at the end of the book.
  • Take This Job and Shove It: Georgia's mother would say that to her boss, were it not for the fact that she is so poor, she can't pay her daughter's tuition fee at the Swan.
  • Technician vs. Performer: Katie is the Technician to Georgia's performer, as acknowledged by Katie herself in her POV.
  • Tell Me About My Mother: Olivia desperately wants to know more about her late mother, but it pains Jack too much to talk about her.
  • Tightrope Walking: Olivia and Jack's speciality.
  • Token Rich Student: Katie Wilkes-Cox comes from a very rich family and has no qualms bragging about her parents' wealth.
  • Two-Teacher School: The only three named teachers are Mr. Shaw, the acting teacher, Miss Hanbury, the voice teacher, and the maths teacher.
  • You Are Not Alone: When Olivia is framed by Katie, everyone is turned against her - everyone but Tom and Georgia.
  • You Remind Me of X: Mr. Shaw tells Olivia she reminds him of her mother, whom he also taught.
     Olivia Flies High 
  • A Day in the Limelight: Tom is promoted to protagonist in this book after being a secondary character for the entirety of book 1.
  • Absence of Evidence: When Tom bumps into the little girl playing Gretl causing her to break her leg, he is accused of having sabotaged her deliberately. Katie testifies to this. There are no other witnesses and it's his word against hers.
  • Alliterative Name: The director of a production of The Sound of Music that Georgia and Tom are auditioning for is called Jon James.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: While in rehearsal for The Sound of Music, Georgia remembers a story about an actress whose parents called out to her during a performance, and hopes her own mother will be better behaved when she comes to see her in the show.
  • Ascended Extra: While he wasn't exactly an extra to begin with, Tom's role is greatly expanded in this book compared to the previous one.
  • Bad Mood as an Excuse: As early as chapter 2, Olivia lashes out at Georgia and Tom for choosing the West End production of The Sound of Music instead of Romeo and Juliet on the High-Wire, which sets off the plot of her trying to get them back as her best friends.
  • Black Sheep: Even after a term at the Swan, Olivia is still this to many of the pupils because of her natural inclination towards circus instead of singing, dancing or acting.
  • Bystander Syndrome: As Katie hangs over the edge of the theatre roof towards the end of the book, bystanders stare helplessly at her, some even filming the happening on their phones.
  • Catchphrase: 'Magnificent' for Pablo Catalano.
  • Chekhov's Gun: When she first gets a mobile phone, Eel mentions it can record conversations. This comes in handy much later on for an Engineered Public Confession.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Eel, who has been practising the role with Georgia and dreaming of performing in the musical one day, gets her chance to play Gretl von Trapp when the original actress breaks her leg right before the performance courtesy of Katie.
  • Chekhov's Skill: A group of pupils has spent all term learning to build a castell, a human pyramid. In chapter 19, this skill becomes crucial for them to help Tom hit his first cue in The Sound of Music.
    • Like in the first book, high-wire walking comes in handy, this time to save Katie from a fatal fall.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Olivia has this sort of attitude towards Tom, causing her to lash out at him when he chooses The Sound of Music over their double act.
  • Continuity Nod: The next-door abandoned building which is briefly plot-relevant in the first book, is now considered by Alicia for an expansion of the school, and she saves up money to buy it.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Eel has been practising Gretl's role with Georgia in the hope of playing it in the West End one day. Then director Jon James happens to see her perform it outside the theatre. Come opening night, all three actresses cast as Gretl are out sick. Now guess who happens to be in the audience...
  • Darker and Edgier: This book is much more so compared to its predecessor, what with high stakes, serious injuries, and Olivia's dad going missing in an alleged plane crash.
  • Darkest Hour: Comes surprisingly early into the book, when Olivia has had a falling out with her best friend Tom, is still treated like an outsider for favouring circus over theatre, and even her dad is scolding her.
    • There is an even darker moment towards the end of the book, with Tom and Olivia still not quite made up, and Olivia has just fallen from the trapeze and is badly injured. By the end of the chapter, it is unclear if she will ever walk again. And then it becomes clear that Jack's plane has gone missing...
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Singing-dancing twins Cosmo and Cosima Wood, titular characters in the next book, are first mentioned here.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: While waiting for her friends outside a cloakroom, Olivia overhears Tom speak mockingly about high-wire walking after their falling out a little earlier. This triggers her Berserk Button. Too bad she doesn't hear him immediately take those words back.
  • Foreshadowing: Alicia makes Olivia promise not to go on the trapeze without Pablo's supervision. The only time she does results in a potentially Career-Ending Injury.
  • Funny Foreigner: Pablo Catalano, the new circus skills teacher and Jack's friend and colleague, constantly mixes up words and expressions, such as calling the Swan 'the Duck academy'.
  • Groupie: The little girls playing Marta and Gretl in The Sound of Music think Katie is really pretty and follow her around, much to Tom's dismay.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: True to her characterisation from book 1, Olivia lashes out at Tom for choosing a West End job over their high-wire double act.
  • Happily Ever Before: The previous book has ended on a high note, only for Olivia to fall out with her best friends and become a glowering loner once again.
  • Hot for Teacher: A lot of girls seem to have turned up for circus classes because they have a crush on the teacher, Pablo.
  • Humble Pie: Lampshaded by Tom in regards to Katie, who has not been humbled by her expulsion from the Swan.
    • By the end of the book, she's a lot more humbled and thoroughly apologises to Olivia and Tom for everything she's done to them.
  • I Never Got Any Letters: As part of her plan to take revenge on Olivia and Tom, whom she blames for her expulsion from The Swan, Katie gets her hands on Tom's phone and erases Olivia's apologetic text message, replacing it with a hateful one from her own new phone.
  • Imposter Forgot One Detail: This is what gives away that the hateful text Tom has received isn't really from Olivia - it is signed 'Olivia', but their friends know that, to Tom, she has always been just Liv.
  • It's All About Me: Katie thinks herself above the other kids involved in The Sound of Music and is bored when watching others rehearse, wishing the focus were on her instead.
  • Kissed Keepsake: When a Swan alum and present-day star stage actor kisses Eel's hand, she says she's never washing it again.
  • Locked Up and Left Behind: Happens to Tom during Sound of Music rehearsals in chapter 8.
    • And then it happens again on a show night in chapter 18.
  • Meaningful Name: The Woods twins' acting befits their last name according to Alicia.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: As the Swans first attempt to form a human pyramid, Kasha '[says] something rude under his breath' while the third row is climbing up.
  • Nepotism: Being the producer's niece, the girl playing Louisa in The Sound of Music production Tom and Georgia are in gets special treatment. And then we find out she's none other than Katie Wilkes-Cox
  • OOC Is Serious Business: When Tom receives the hateful text message "from Olivia" and shows it to Georgia and Aeysha, they all note how it doesn't sound like her at all and are worried about their (at the time former) friend.
  • Put on a Bus: Alicia Swan leaves the academy in the hands of Mr. Shaw while she's off working on a Hollywood movie with the Wood twins. She is back by chapter 11, though.
  • The Scottish Trope: The Scottish Play is mentioned verbatim in chapter 19 as another in-universe example of a Troubled Production.
  • Shout-Out: Just like the first book, there are a number of shout-outs to all kinds of theatre productions. The Sound of Music is a major part of the plot. Romeo and Juliet is fairly important, too. Also mentioned are Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker and Oliver!.
  • Troubled Production: In-universe, The Sound of Music seems to be this. A lots of the children have come down with different illnesses, and Tom is a complete wreck thanks to Katie. On press night, the last remaining Gretl literally breaks a leg and there is no one to replace her.
  • The Unapologetic: Olivia immediately feels bad for lashing out at Tom and Georgia, but is too proud to apologise and it takes her quite some time.
     Olivia and the Movie Stars 
     Olivia's Enchanted Summer 
     Olivia's Winter Wonderland 
     Olivia and the Great Escape 
     Olivia's Curtain Call