Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Alan Warner’s novel The Sopranos, speaks to that first taste of freedom – the feeling of unleashed possibility the first time the wideness of the world piles in on you. The six-strong cast all multi-role brilliantly – they do everything brilliantly – but they mainly play members of a Catholic girls’ school choir, whose brief escape from rural Oban to the bright lights of Edinburgh has all the sambuca-soaked, rictus-grin desperation of a 24-hour jailbreak.
In the opening scenes, they sing, they tease each other, they square up to us: it’s fast and rude and funny and intense, and says, If you don’t like us, there’s the door. I’ve got to admit I doubted the play’s motives for a bit. I was worried it was going to be a little shallow, trading on the shock value of teenage girls drinking and smoking and saying cunt – having been a teenage girl not a million years ago, I wouldn’t have found that super shocking. But as you relax into it, Our Ladies unfurls like a flower, becoming far funnier, more honest and more beautiful than you imagine.
The show’s crowning glory is its close-knit ensemble: they fit together as harmoniously as performers as they do as musicians. What makes it work is the feeling of being in the pub with them, the fun impressionism of them playing all the surrounding characters, and especially the endless parade of men that want something from these teenage girls, their every mannerism dragged out and played with via the schoolgirls’ hyperbolic gossip. It’s this sense of play and freedom, as well as the faultless performances that come with it, that makes Vicky Featherstone’s production so compelling to watch. Special mentions must go to Dawn Sievewright as the hard-seeming, quietly wise Fionnula, and Karen Fishwick as the middle-class Kay and a particularly adept impressionist.
In its new West End setting, Our Ladies is easily a big enough beast to fill the stage, a taut combination of theatrical experimentalism and variety as accessibility. It’s agile, fun, with great reach – but this theatre doesn’t feel quite like the space it was built for. In some ways the beautiful old Duke of York’s gives the show’s ‘up yours’ to traditionalism more punch, but in other ways, Our Ladies demands an equality with its audience. It wants to be closer to us, and it’s hard not to imagine it being all the more exciting with that bit more intimacy. But maybe I just don’t love watching things in the West End.
Anyway, who cares – as the girls sing, party, go mad, and share their stories with us, Our Ladies becomes much more than the sum of its (very enjoyable) parts. Suddenly you feel the price, the weight of those moments when the world first opened up to you, and you know it’s all rushing unstoppably towards them, all the mess of real life. Lee Hall’s show is an ode to the precipice at the end of childhood: the joy and horror of having it all spread out before you with no idea what comes next, made suddenly as real to you as though you were still on that precipice yourself by a show as breakneck as the best night out, as wild as you wish you’d been, as tender as a bruise.
Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour is at the Duke Of York’s Theatre until September 2nd. For more details, click here.