“Life is full of possibilities. And most of the possibilities just get left.”
When the young ladies of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour let their hair down it’s a rollicking adventure full of booze, sex, God, friendship, and love. Lee Hall’s adaptation of Alan Warner’s novel about a Catholic high school girl’s choir going wild for a day in Edinburgh embraces
female voices, teenage desire, and brings to life a heartfelt place of sadness and longing.
Sort of imagine the ragtag orphans in Annie as randy, Scottish teens keeping score on how many pregnancies there are in each class year at school and conniving to get into the one nightclub in town when the submariners are in port. Orla (Melissa Allan) has been recovering from cancer and just wants to catch up with her pals by having sex with someone. Chell (Caroline Deyga) has been through a lot of tragedy. Manda’s (Kirsty MacLaren) Dad is on the dole and her Mom has left. Kylah (Frances Mayli McCann) is in a band. Fionnula (Dawn Sievewright) is the most popular girl in school. She’s independent, self-possessed and painfully self-aware. Kay Clarke (Karen Fishwick), the goody-goody, is above all this. She’s rich and the only one going to university.
Not quite a jukebox musical, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is more of a play jam-packed with music from the likes of Bob Marley, Bartok, Handel, and ELO all of which the cast sing with rich voices and delicate fragility under the direction of Vicky Featherstone.
The teens narrate their own story as it is happening in accents as thick as Ben Nevis using whatever props around to tell their tale. It feels a little convenient to just have them explain as they go in this informal fashion and the result is episodic, choppy, and a bit overlong. But colorful characters, outrageous antics, and the sheer exuberance on stage make up for these structural flaws.
These are voices that deserve a bigger stage and here they take it with authority and agency. The cast gives these characters a rich inner life. Each of these young women know that their opportunities are few and their prospects dim, so they carpe the living diem out of this school trip replete with flaming sambuca shots, too tight skirts, and an unexpected erection. And we are along for the joyous and touching ride.
Notably, there is not a single man on stage (not even in the onstage band). Hallelujah! A show that passes the Bechdel test and then some. And this choice makes narrative sense. The young cast performs their primary characters and all the men they encounter in their night out. This includes a lecherous drug dealer, a gaggle of old booze-hounds, the aforementioned erection, and a strange young man with a budgie in tow. These portrayals are not meant to be literal depictions; rather the teens are telling us how they see the world and the men around them.
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour provides a vibrant picture of young women on the cusp of adulthood trying to have fun, sing out, and live a little before reality takes away the last of their childhood joie de vivre.