Friday, 7 October 2016

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Oct 6, 2016 ****


Adapted by Lee Hall, bases on The Sopranos by Alan Warner; by National Theatre of Scotland and Live Theatre
Melbourne Festival
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until Oct 22, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 6, 2016.

Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Fri Oct 7, 2016 and later in print. KH
 Former Catholic schoolgirls, take heart. When compared with the alcohol-, drug- and sex-fuelled rampage of the six choirgirls in Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, your real or imagined, past transgressions will look positively saintly.

With their secret stash of boozy beverages, the choir travels by bus to an Edinburgh choral competition to represent their convent school that claims the dubious honour of a ridiculously high teen pregnancy rate.

The choir’s angelic, unaccompanied voices, singing Mendelssohn’s Lift Thine Eyes in the opening scene, belie the mischief and outrageous behaviour that follow in Vicky Featherstone’s rollicking, hilarious and poignant production of Lee Hall’s adaptation of Alan Warner’s 1998 novel, The Sopranos.

Hall’s stage narrative is episodic, with short, swift scenes that effectively capture the frenetic energy and rapidly changing mood and location of these unruly, dysfunctional girls over 24 hours as they hit the clubs with the aim of getting plastered and shagged – but they express it much more crudely.

The girls punctuate their frenzied exploits with a repertoire of tunes ranging from Don’t Bring Me Down and Sweet Talkin’ Woman by 1970s rock band, Electric Light Orchestra, to the dulcet, reverent tones of J.S. Bach’s Agnus Dei.

The performances, peppered with constant, blasphemous expletives, are vivid and vivacious, the six-part harmonies are thrilling and the actors embody the frenzied, adolescent behaviour that masks the poignant fact that the girls’ future looks grim while their present is fuelled by despair and raging hormones.

Caroline Deyga is the brassy Chell who has faced a lot of death in her short life, while Joanne McGuiness plays hapless Orla who travelled to Lourdes to cure her cancer.

The feisty Kylah, played by Frances Mayli McCann, sings in a local band but has loftier ambitions, while Kirsty MacLaren’s wiry Manda adds milk powder to her bath to make her feel like Cleopatra.

Karen Fishwick is the prim Kay, the middle-class girl who the others see as a goodie-goodie because she aims for university, while Dawn Sievewright is a highlight as the audacious Fionnula who has a moment of self-discovery.

In addition to their primary character, each of the cast plays multiple roles, peopling the stage with a parade of characters from grungy but helpful pub drinkers to bemused, nightclub bouncers, bartenders and even a nun called Sister Condom (not her real name, we presume).

The three-piece band (Laura Bangay, Becky Brass, Emily Linden) provides tight accompaniment and the design (Chloe Lamford) combines a scruffy, nightclub with a statue of the Virgin Mary gazing down on the girls with her beatific smile and silent judgment.

The period of the play remains unspecified but it feels like the 70s because of the musical references and the girls’ lack of mobile phones.

At times, the narrative is unclear and some scenes need to be edited or excised as the show feels too long.

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is a wild ride with this gang of grotesque, offensive but loveable characters whose appalling behaviour embodies all we loath about teenagers, and all that we hope to nurture.

By Kate Herbert

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