Saturday 13th May, 2017 at The Duke of York’s Theatre, London.
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Alan Warner’s novel The Sopranos, is a raging success of a new comedy – and that success lands almost entirely at the feet of the fantastic cast. Yes, the writing is good, and it tickles the ribs with various outrageous lexical combinations and obscenities which make not getting a laugh a sheer impossibility; but the nature of the humour isn’t new. We’ve had adolescent obscenity and grossness entertaining us for years through The History Boys, Kevin and Perry, Some Girls and The Inbetweeners to name a few popular examples that most will know. The 16+ age advisory should be an indicator of the kind of content you can expect – these are girls of the modern age, who chat about teen pregnancy as a nonchalant yearly tally while they discuss who did what with whom. What sets this apart from other displays of angst-ridden teens is that these girls attend a strict nun-run Catholic School for girls; the regular reminders of this not only serves to heighten the impact of the hilarity and the outrageous shenanigans that the characters get up to, but it gives the show a winning extra layer: gorgeous choral music which transports us to the serenity of a church service before obliterating that angelic perfection with energetic, defiant, riotous rock tunes. It’s nothing if not thoroughly entertaining.The premise is simple: six choir girls from Oban are in Edinburgh, unsupervised for the day. There’s drink, drugs, sex, rude awakenings and poignant confessions amidst plenty of laughs. Under the direction of Vicky Featherstone, this cast perform a vast array of roles, shifting from school girl to pervy guy in the loos or school girl to greasy chancer in a bar and back again in the blink of an eye. There is no token costume to assist with role changes and props are few and far between; to be fair, this cast don’t need token visuals. The speed of the performance necessitates a style of which embraces the simplicity of momentary mime and physicality to suggest, for comic effect, rather than show with realism. The blocking is sharp as a pin and each scene is performed with pristine precision; one scene has them change from their uniforms to their out-on-the-town gear while performing in church, and despite all the limbs twisting and turning, never a note was missed or fluffed. Impressive. While I enjoyed the simplicity of the staging and the clever achievement of complex effects, I would at times have liked to see a little more going on with set, which was simple and static throughout – not much movement, but a little would have been beneficial I think.Comic timing is a pool in which these performers have swum marathons it seems; quick exchanges, well landed punchlines and fantastic physical comedy all make this production a real joy to watch. Caroline Deyga, playing Chell, makes more use of her face than I’ve seen any other actress attempt; by facial expression alone she can raise a smile or a laugh and her character gets plenty of laughs. Karen Fishwick plays the dark horse Kay with layers a-plenty, but Fishwick also impresses with her considerable talents with multi-roling as various funny-voiced minor characters. Kirsty MacLaren plays Manda with a scrappy energy while also portraying her to be one of the more innocent of the group. Isis Hainsworth plays perhaps the most sentimental character in the production: Orla, who tells tales of her cancer treatment with winning naïvity and along with MacLaren, she captures the tragedy and the comedy of the fibbing unsexed teen brilliantly. Frances Mayli McCann oozes self righteous confidence as the gutsy Kylah who has dreams she is determined to realise and has no problem making use of her winning female ways to get where she wants to be; yet while she is lairy, she does display an underlying sensibilityDawn Sievewright gave by far the strongest performance for me. Playing Fionnula, perhaps the most potty mouthed and the most outrageous of the girls, she was both thoroughly funny with her spot-on over-exaggerated depictions of leering males and as a girl projecting all the front she can muster even as she is trying to figure out her own mind. Sievewright has real, undeniable stage presence; eyes are drawn to her in group scenes and she performed a beautiful husky solo to top it all off. In the midst of self-discovery and growing up, the girls are insecure, confident, loyal, poignant and bitchy; they’re defiant, reckless, fearful and subservient in the presence of nuns; they’re loud and raucous and drunk and funny – they represent each and every whirling contradiction at play in the uncertain days of adolescence.I can’t praise the sound of Our Ladies enough. While it is recognisably a comedy and a play, it also has aspects of a musical, yet it isn’t a musical – it just cannily squeezes every last drop of talent out of the performers for our viewing enjoyment, and let me tell you: these ladies have killer voices. Kirsty MacLaren in particular must have a graduation certificate from a choir of angels somewhere – the sweet, high purity of her voice is the keystone of the choral numbers and the harmonies created by six talented voices is surely the stuff of nun’s dreams. That said, MacLaren’s voice soars just as comfortably with the more modern sounds created by the very hip looking, all-female (woo!) live band (Amy Shackloth, Lilly Howard, Becky Brass, Emily Linden). Frances Mayli McCann leads many of the group musical numbers and her voice is as powerful and gripping as her stage presence. Karen Fishwick’s voice stands out for its force and its rock-growl while Dawn Sievewright’s voice boasts that rare huskiness which handles both ballads and belters with identical ease. The best thing about the use of musical numbers is the way the short choral excerpts were perfectly timed to jar with some outrageous happening either seconds prior or post; that winning, slick, impeccably timed contrast is what made this comedy a real kicker and what sets Our Ladies apart from other eye-popping comedies.So, Our Ladies is a fog-horned success of a new comedy which benefits no end from a strong cast giving 100% and then some for the entire interval–less performance (who boast immaculate timing and fantastic voices to boot). It’s not exactly new in subject matter, but it is a very strong example of the very modern outrageous, profanity-laden coming of age story. There’s also much to be said for having an all female cast lead a play like this; having male casts perform smutty scenes in the name of comedy is far more common, so it’s nice to see a little levelling of that field. I recommend Our Ladies primarily on the strength of the cast and performances because I think the script itself, while funny, is not exactly fresh – the realm of teens and sexual discovery remains super rude and super gross – but it’s worth a trip for the laugh!
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is at The Duke of York’s Theatre in London for a strictly limited run, and you can get your tickets here.