“Fuck the singing, we’re just gonna go mental”
A hit in Edinburgh last summer and arriving at the National after a UK tour, National Theatre of Scotland and Live Theatre co-production Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is a riotous shot in the arm for musical theatre and all the better for it. An adaptation of a 1998 Alan Warner novel The Sopranos scripted by Lee Hall (he of Billy Elliot amongst others) and directed by Vicky Featherstone (she of the Royal Court), the remainder of the run is perilously close to selling out so I’d buy your ticket now and then come back and read the review!
Our Ladies is a convent school in Oban, on the west coast of Scotland, and its choir are on their way to Edinburgh for a singing competition. But it is less Mendelssohn on their mind than “getting mental”, as their concoctions of cocktails disguised in flasks and lemonade bottles attest and having got themselves booted out of the contest, proceed to do just that, with a view to returning to Oban to try their luck in their local club – The Mantrap – where, rumour has it, a crew of submariners have temporarily put down anchor.
And as you might imagine, it’s a raucous and rowdy blast of fun, capturing not just the sense of a certain kind of schoolgirl but much of the simultaneous uncertainty and potential of being 17. The six-strong cast not only play their own strongly defined characters but take us through the multitude of people they crash into on their journey – a neat conceit from Hall/Featherstone sees them recounting the tale from the Mantrap itself – from dirty old men to god-fearing headmistresses, pervy younger men to sceptical bouncers.
In amongst the sex, the swearing and the severed toes is a feistily charismatic swell of music. Martin Lowe’s arrangement see the choir swing from Bach to Bob Marley with a whole lotta ELO inbetween, accompanied by an all-female house band. As we experience their manic adventures and get to know a little of the hopes and dreams that lift them, the fears and ambitions that drive them, it’s hard not to be won over by the sheer force of personality onstage. Bravo to Frances Mayli McCann, Joanne McGuinness, Karen Fishwick, Kirsty MacLaren, Caroline Deyga, and the excellent Dawn Sievewright for nailing it.
The play is perhaps a little bit too long for the relentlessness with which it makes its mark but it is surely impossible not to be transfixed by the moment of stand-out gut-wrenching musical beauty that draws Our Ladies to its close – what “good friends we have” indeed.