It is sad that it’s still rare to see a stage dominated by women, so I’m pleased the cast of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour dominated in the way they did. The six young women have an infectious energy and are so incredibly ballsy; they fill the stage more than some musicals I’ve seen with huge ensembles. Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is a musical play, adapted by Lee Hall from Alan Warner’s novel The Sopranos. It tells the story of a group of catholic schoolgirls from working-class Oban families who are in Edinburgh for a choir competition, and the journey they go on as they transgress wildly.
Playing every part themselves, including the sleazy men who hit on them, these women own their story from the start. They are accompanied on stage by an all female band who interact with the performers with the same energy they have. Chloe Lamford’s design situates them permanently in the Mantrap, Oban’s only nightclub complete with peeling wallpaper, and the ensemble create everything from within this place, their territory. The ensemble’s timing is spot on, they support each other 100% on stage and they’re clearly having a brilliant time creating this story. The production is playful and humorous – a fantastic moment of physical comedy creating an extraordinarily large phallus springs to mind – but it knows how to punch you in the gut. Hall’s text has a strong, balanced rhythm and the cast have a tight control of this.
Religion is present throughout, from the catholic school uniforms to the Virgin Mary on the wall of Lamford’s design. Then, of course, there’s the music arranged by Martin Lowe that moves from Mendelssohn to ELO. Songs are used to comment on the events of the narrative, and by the girls to reflect on their lives, and are performed exceptionally well. The girls rebel against the confines of their school, but they find religion in everyday life and in their ultimate questioning of what love actually is.
This is a raucous and thoroughly enjoyable performance that captures the raw energy, passion and optimism of a group of teenage girls. It’s a piece of work that isn’t ashamed to display the bare face of young women, in all their transgressions and foul-mouthed-ness. It isn’t judgemental; it’s accepting of this phase in life. These women say things our society still believes shouldn’t come out of a woman’s mouth. One monologue about an act of sexual deviance performed in a hospital stands out; the laughter of shock and disbelief from the audience is evidence of how such things still make us uncomfortable.
Hall’s writing is bold, poetic and down to earth at the same time. It is matched by exceptional performances and strong direction from Vicky Featherstone who has fine-tuned this into a tight and polished piece of work. Although at times it was hard to make out what was being said, the sound balance being a little off, and it took me some time to get into the pace and performance style, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour blew me away.
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is at Theatre Royal Brighton as part of Brighton Festival until 21st May and then continues to tour. For more information see the National Theatre of Scotland website.