Review – Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, National Theatre

Friday 26 August 2016

ntgds_ho_ourladies_herospot_290716_2578x1128When Phil told his mother he was going to see Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour she asked, in all innocence, “What are they sucking?”

Quite a lot as it turned out. Perhaps that’s the gag.

And each of our ladies are drinking more units in an evening than even the Whingers might drink in a week, vomiting in their handbags (something we’ve never done) and committing a little arson. As one does.

These are catholic girls, members of their Oban school choir, who visit Edinburgh to take part in a choral competition. They load up their thermoses and lemonade bottles with alcohol with the sole intention of getting thrown out of the competition as quickly as possible so they can “get mental” in the lowlier dives of the city. Their ultimate ambition seems to be to down as much sambuca as possible and end up on their backs (or knees), though most end up in a crumpled heap on the floor without even travelling on a ram-packed* Virgin train.

Lee Hall‘s (Billy Elliot, The Pitmen Painters) dramatisation of Alan Warner‘s 1998 novel changes the title from the original The Sopranos. Can’t think why. Imagine the love child of Once a Catholic and The History Boys reworked by Irvine Welsh.

The cast of unknowns are superb (well, they’re unknown to us). Melissa AllanCaroline DeygaKaren FishwickKirsty MacLarenFrances Mayli McCannDawn Sievewright not only perform the sextet of sex-obsessed ladies with sweary don’t-bring-your-gran gusto but have to, ahem, play the men’s parts too. If there wasn’t a 3-piece band no doubt they’s be on the instruments too.

The gender switching was occasionally confusing. Phil obviously wasn’t paying full attention or was still grappling with the substantial accents and at one point thought he was watching a sapphic tryst though this turned out to be Orla (Allan), who had apparently received a miracle cure for her cancer in Lourdes, making up for lost time with a lad rather than a ladette. Earlier she’d related a story about her time in hospital when she pleasured a dying Norwegian which managed to be as shocking as it was poignant.

They sing wonderfully and the piece is interspersed with songs covering everything from Mendelssohn to Bartok, a superb a cappella version of “No Woman, No Cry” and about half a dozen Electric Light Orchestra numbers fitting in neatly with the current Jeff Lynne renaissance.

With Phil’s love of ELO and vulgarity he arrived really expecting to love this and musically he did (and it was a treat to hear a Carry on Cleo reference) but he was only moderately amused by the girls’ shenanigans which is so over-stuffed with coarseness and language as attractive as a toxic bead it ultimately became a little exhausting. Others seemed highly amused. The man next to Phil contorted his body in such hysterical convulsions throughout that Phil considered directing him towards an aisle to roll in. Deeply distracting.

Vicky Featherstone‘s exuberant production comes from the National Theatre of Scotland and Live Theatre and has been knocking around the country for over a year, so it’s remarkable the ensemble have as much energy and make it seem as fresh as they do, plus it’s all played out in an interval-free 1 hour 50 minutes. Yet it still left Phil slightly wanting. Wanting a drink of course.

* Were we the only ones to assume Corbyn meant jam-packed? Urban Dictionary’s definition of rampacked might suit our ladies to a T.








One Response to “Review – Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, National Theatre”

  1. I missed seeing this in Edinburgh a year ago at the Traverse. I think I failed to spot that it was written by the brilliant Lee Hall. It is brilliantly performed at the National but there isn’t enough conflict between the six girls who all have the same objectives. Not enough contrast between innocence and experience, not enough sense of them going on a life-changing journey. I felt they would probably be off on another trip the following weekend doing much the same.

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