The Sopranos, the book on which Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is based, has more characters than the stage show, and occasionally the reader encounters two characters of the same name, differentiated, perhaps inevitably by nicknames. This stage production simplifies that and many other aspects of the novel, but somehow, all of the salient points are there. Given that the play is able to run without an interval, adapting a 300+ page book into a 105-minute show without leaving me feeling short-changed is quite an achievement.
I’ve moaned about precocious swearing before in the theatre, though here it seems commensurate with this set of schoolgirls, rebelling against a strict Catholic school regime. There is plenty of what can only be deemed schoolgirl humour, crude with a capital C. It’s really not for everyone, and the more unshockable those who go to this show are, the better. It’s not so much what is seen (unless you are shocked by sparks and theatrical fog) but what is described. And I’m glad so much is described rather than acted out.
For the most part, it is all very silly, but highly enjoyable, even if it did take a while to grow on me. It goes at a brisker pace than the novel, thank goodness, but without feeling rushed. Although I wasn’t offended by anything, not all the punchlines were funny. Some in the press night audience were stony-faced throughout, others crying with laughter. Few laughed in moderation. There’s Manda (Kirsty MacLaren), who thinks she bathes like Cleopatra did because she puts two scoops of powdered milk in the hot tub. There’s Chell (Caroline Deyga), whose sister is (by way of lengthy, and credible, explanation) also her auntie. There’s Orla (Isis Hainsworth), a cancer survivor whose story about getting frisky with a fellow patient while she was in hospital is frankly comical. The on-stage band, also all-female, are also worthy of mention: Amy Shackcloth (musical director/keyboards), Lilly Howard (assistant MD/keyboards), Becky Brass (percussion) and Emily Linden (guitars/bass/mandolin).
It becomes clear that these are teenagers finding their way in life, and dare I say it, they are on a journey of sorts, not just to the knockout stages of a regional school choir competition, but looking to the future in the big bad world, beyond the gated perimeter of their school. Much of the music that features in this play is not the sort of thing I would ordinarily listen to, being far removed from the usual show tune fare to be found in a number of other West End shows. Relying heavily on the back catalogue of the Electric Light Orchestra, sprinkled with traditional church pieces and the Brookside theme tune (don’t ask), all of these songs are performed with verve and perfect harmony. The odd note is out of place, but only for comic effect.
Could there have been a little more staging? A relatively sparse set allows for almost instant scene changes, which keeps the show’s momentum going. But I’ve not been transported to non-specific every-place since Once the Musical hit the West End four years ago. More to the point, I wonder if there was enough in the script to distinguish between different characters. Debatably the most distinct, Kay (Karen Fishwick), starts off as a version of Hermione Grainger, studious and conscientious, but predictably turns out to be the most daring or most indecorous, depending on your point of view of lewd behaviour. But I hope I’m right in judging this play to be one that deliberately asserts that people are not all that different from one another.
The stage show stays faithful to the novel’s setting, before the era of mobile phones – these young ladies had to agree beforehand where to meet later, which took me back more than a few years. As with the profanity, slow-motion scenes are usually a bugbear of mine, but in this show, it’s used sparingly, just the once, and for excellent dramatic effect, hilarious and harrowing in equal measure. It does have the whiff of a student production about it, with young performers playing minor characters who are considerably older. But as one character says to another at one point, “It’s not that bad, it’s just a lot of fun.”
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour Review
In the last few months, more than one producer has questioned me directly about whether a certain show praised by critics and audiences in a smaller London theatre would succeed if a West End transfer were considered. Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour proves there is an audience for the quirky, unconventional production. The blunt honesty of these characters is so refreshing and their energy is extraordinary. This isn’t so much a coming of age story as a rite of passage tale. A surprisingly captivating and compelling show.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Following sold out seasons at the National Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Fringe and UK Tour, the smash hit, award-winning new play Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour transfers to the West End for a strictly-limited season.
From the creator of Billy Elliot (Lee Hall) comes the uplifting and moving story of six Catholic choir girls from Oban, let loose in Edinburgh for one day only. Funny, heartbreaking and raucously rude, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is adapted from Alan Warner’s brilliant novel, and directed by Vicky Featherstone.
Featuring the songs of ELO, Our Ladies is a glorious anthem to friendship, youth and growing up disgracefully.
Age recommendation 16+
Prepare thyself for: really rude language, flashing lights, pyrotechnics, lots of sexual references, excessive drinking, and extensive use of the smoke machine.
OUR LADIES OF PERPETUAL SUCCOUR
Booking Period: 9 May 2017 – 2 September 2017
Running Time: 1 hour 45 mins – NO INTERVAL
Age Recommendation: 16+
Duke of York’s Theatre
45 St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4BG