For her first series regular character, Imogen Lamb plays Mary-Lou across all episodes of CBBC and BBC iPlayer’s Malory Towers – a screen adaptation of Enid Blyton’s books – working alongside a cast including Ella Bright (as Darrell Rivers) and Danya Griver (as Gwendoline Mary Lacey), which started airing during the pandemic in 2020. The 1940s-based boarding school drama has since had a worldwide release, and Imogen has recently filmed for Series 4, and as a cast member of Malory Towers, she has been a guest on Saturday Mash-Up and recorded a podcast for BBC Sounds – Tales of Malory Towers. Finishing school this year, Imogen has just completed her GCSEs, having studied alongside her career, and she started acting in musical theatre performing in shows such as Bugsy Malone. We caught up with Imogen, who told us about playing Mary-Lou in Malory Towers, being part of the screen adaptation of Enid Blyton’s books and being a guest on Saturday Mash-Up.
You play Mary-Lou in the screen adaptation of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers, what is the character like to play?
I adore getting into the role of Mary-Lou. She is gentle and compassionate, which is lovely to be able to portray. I often try to bring some humour to her innocence and selfless nature. She is quite different than me, too. Especially in the first series, she is less outspoken than me and less confident within herself, which is interesting to play.
How did you prepare for your role and what was it like meeting the rest of the cast for the first time?
As I was auditioning and throughout getting to know Mary-Lou, I adjusted my voice and changed my body language to demonstrate her shyness. I also tried to understand her motivations and actions towards the other girls, to truly “feel” like her when playing the role. Meeting the cast felt like some sort of fate! We instantly connected and since, our bond has grown to something I feel so grateful to have.
How much did you know about the Malory Towers franchise before auditioning and what originally drew you to the series?
Growing up, I loved the books and read them repeatedly! They felt like a comfort series. The idea of my first professional role being with a group of eight other incredible girls was amazing, and the concept of Malory Towers being set in a 1940s boarding school was really exciting.
What do you enjoy most about filming on location and how has it been returning to set for the upcoming Series 4?
Filming on location differs from being on a set as you can imagine your character in the space more easily. The places we have filmed at over the years have been stunning, too, like the rock pool and the Hartland Abbey gardens. It also gives me a chance to experience a new “set” every day, for example on the clifftops (when Mary-Lou falls off the side), where I was able to step out of my comfort zone. Returning for Series 4 has been so nostalgic; seeing the classroom and dormitory again was so special.
How has it been developing Mary-Lou over the years and seeing the viewers’ response to her?
I have loved watching Mary-Lou grow. Her character has developed so much, as what once was a timid, overly accommodating girl has become one with assurance. I feel so thankful to have been given the opportunity to develop the role through some amazing storylines, for example when she “saved” Darrell from drowning or was locked in a cupboard. These moments allowed her to gain strength, which I integrate throughout her character. The viewers all seem to love Mary-Lou for how she helps her friends as much as I do; it has been so rewarding to see how the younger viewers look up to her. I saw girls on social media dressing up as her for World Book Day!
Have you had a favourite scene/episode to work on and which have you found most challenging?
One of my favourite episodes to work on was The Trials in Series 3, in which Mary-Lou navigates the anxieties and confusion of growing up. It was such a privilege to be able to illustrate this on children’s TV, for an impressionable audience of teenage girls like Mary-Lou and myself. This in itself was a challenge as I wanted to portray it to the best of my ability, with truth and understanding.
Do you remember how you felt seeing the release of Series 1 during the pandemic and what is it like having Malory Towers released internationally?
I remember watching the release of Malory Towers so vividly! The girls and I watched the first episode on Zoom together. Although it was strange for the show to first air during the pandemic, I hope it gave and continues to give viewers entertainment and a sense of comfort in such an abnormal time, wherever they are in the world. It is unbelievable to think the show has reached an international audience! The success reflects the hard work of all cast, crew, and creators of Malory Towers. I feel blessed that the show can be enjoyed by so many people.
What is it like filming for a series set in the 1940s and based in a boarding school?
Although there are differences in the way children used to learn and spend time at school, I’ve realised that nowadays we have similar experiences. The complexity of female friendship that is at the heart of the show is something that can be felt amongst girls and women today. However, I have learned more about the lifestyle of living in a boarding school during the 1940s, when girls were taught to balance books on their heads, for instance!
Why would you recommend watching the three already-released series of Malory Towers and who do you think the show will appeal to?
This series is created with such warmth. It is exciting, heart-warming and truly special to watch. It is also an exceptional representation of the capability and greatness of young women, for teenage girls to be empowered by. Additionally, adults who were fond of the novels might connect with their inner child and feel nostalgic whilst watching. I think this show is for everyone and anyone who enjoys watching the girls getting up to some mischief!
How was the experience being a guest on Saturday Mash-Up?
I loved being a guest; the experience was very chaotic but so much fun! Everyone on set was so welcoming and it was interesting to see how TV worked live as opposed to filming a series.
What would you say are some of your favourite highlights from being part of the Malory Towers franchise for CBBC so far?
Recording the Tales from Malory Towers podcast for BBC Sounds was such a great experience and something I’d never done before! Additionally, there are games, interviews and set tours the girls and I have done over the years for the CBBC website and Malory Towers Instagram which have been so much fun.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start?
From the age of four, my favourite place has always been the stage; when I am performing, I am my most confident and happiest self. After being in every school play, I joined a theatre group which then put me forward for my current agency aged nine. Once I had started working on Malory Towers, I fell in love with screen acting. I aspire to have the skill and understanding that actors have at communicating powerful and beautiful stories.
We understand you are skilled in musical theatre, can you tell us about this?
I have loved musicals for as long as I can remember and have been in various shows with my theatre group, Bugsy Malone being one. For around eight years I took musical theatre lessons and after doing Grade 6, I stopped to act and focus on studies. I would love to continue them though, as I have such a passion for musical theatre.
What are some of your favourite films, TV and theatre shows to watch?
Recently, I have seen To Kill a Mockingbird on stage, as well as Prima Facie, a one-woman play starring Jodie Comer, both of which were incredible. Perhaps my favourite comfort TV show is Grey’s Anatomy, which I cry at all 18 seasons!
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I love being with the girls both on and off set, so whenever I have the opportunity I will spend time with them! I also enjoy writing poetry, reading, and listening to music whilst walking my Labrador, Teddy.
You’ve recently finished studying for your GCSEs, how was it fitting your acting career around your education?
Honestly, juggling schoolwork whilst acting is very difficult, as you have to fit in schooling hours around your unpredictable shooting schedule. It can be exhausting! Nevertheless, it means I appreciate both my education and my job so much more, giving me motivation to succeed in both.
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