Following a sell-out run at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour makes its way to the Brighton Festival, and proves that its raucous, earthy Scottish humour more than translates to an English audience.
Adapted by Lee Hall from the Alan Warner novel The Sopranos (nothing to do with the Mafia, though these girls are possibly scarier), this is the story of the ultimate school field trip, as a bunch of Catholic schoolgirls head to Edinburgh, nominally for a choir competition, but in fact for a day of hard partying that will have life-changing results.
Performed with verve by an immensely likeable and talented ensemble – particular standouts were Dawn Sievewright’s Fionnula and Karen Fishwick’s Kay, but it’s a uniformly strong cast, and everyone gets a chance to shine – it’s an absolute riot, if not a show for the faint hearted. Sex, swearing and vulgarity abound, but as the girls cut a swathe of alcoholic destruction across the city, it’s hard not to root for them – they have one another’s backs in even the most extreme situations, and take almost every disaster in their stride. Hearts are broken, secrets revealed, but while they emerge transformed, it’s with their own form of integrity intact.
It’s a slightly surreal experience watching a bunch of Scottish, working class loudmouths in the midst of an English, predominantly middle class audience, especially since the piece captures so beautifully the obscene but poetic rhythms of the girls’ speech: there was at times an unfortunate degree of laughing at, rather than with, that could leave a sour taste in the mouth (in particular, every use of the word ‘cunt’ was greeted with shocked squeals of pearl-clutching hilarity which baffled my Scottish companion and I – in Glasgow, it’s virtually punctuation).
The music is beautifully done and well-used – a smart mash up of ELO and classical numbers, performed by the cast with support from a live band (the musical score is arranged by Tony Award winner Martin Lowe). In places it sags – we could have done with perhaps one fewer scenes of the girls being leered at in pubs by old blokes – and not every emotional note hits true (and, dear god, just ONCE I would like to see abortion presented as a viable option for a woman, not a crisis of conscience to be overcome). Almost inevitably, when you cram a bunch of ‘issues’ into a piece (pregnancy, lesbianism, cancer, class and religion are all touched upon), some of them work better than others. But Vicky Featherstone directs with pace, and there’s a particular joy to seeing young women’s lives – both their pursuit of pleasure and the pragmatism of teenage sexuality (where shagging a bouncer to secure entry to a club is seen as simply ‘taking one of the team’ rather than a source of life-altering shame) – so unapologetically presented.
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is on as part of Brighton Festival 2016. Click here for more information.