With the promise of delinquency, sin and smoking, I was anticipating a hot and dangerous exploration of religious rebellion as I sat down to watch Nuns. If the all-female production (both cast and crew) isn’t enough to get you excited, then perhaps the declaration of their “desire to change the system” will intrigue you – it certainly did me. We are given insight into the current state of the Church through a satirical comedy where the relaxed lives of nuns are explored through sex, drugs and alcohol. However, smoking is still prohibited due to the surprisingly well explained entangled relationship between Church and State. While Nuns does deliver a show of exaggerated insurgence within the Church, its lack of comedic timing alongside a slightly stumbling plot leaves me wondering whether the discussion of nunnery is best left to horror.
The performance stands out in terms of sight and sound. Between each scene a phonograph audio clip is played on to darkness, recalling old instances of nun rebellion, a typical day for the Church and other comical recollections. It broadcasts an eerily historical presence. This old-fashioned approach is in direct contrast to the neon crosses and confessional booths, which not only install a sense of irony, but warp any expectation of time. The light, including a funny, if not slightly too long cut scene of character freeze frames, brings the play into the twenty-first century, finding an unlikely harmony between the senses. Sally McColloch, in charge of sound and lighting, along with set designer Tara Usher, take this performance home.
On stage the cast create an uneasy ensemble. Although obviously comfortable with each other and holding real love for this ambitious passion project, their inability to make comedic references repeatedly land leaves me feeling disappointed. The play’s evident potential for mastery isn’t quite delivered, though that’s not to say that I wasn’t amused.
Nuns smoking bongs, cigarettes and discussing their various sexcapades with numerous vicars delights the audience and is a refreshing diversion from traditional religious discussion. There is no real blasphemy to be found here, the performance is far too silly to provoke any serious thought upon the current state of the Church. Indeed, even Mother Superior, played by the subtly unserious Gillian Broderick, turns into a panda and unapologetically dances around. It is easy to see the appeal Nuns holds. Delinquency in the Church alongside an explicit discussion of sex (including a comedic obsession with half dressed women in crochet) are a match made in hell. Nuns does manage to hit some sweet spots; Sister Bernadette played by the innocent Cecile Sinclair really comes into her own as the play progresses.
However, the power struggle between Mother Superior and the nuns becomes lost. It leaves behind any ambition to change the system and instead becomes swept up in a need to find an ending. There is more work to be done in order to achieve any real feeling of devilish satisfaction.
Nuns is playing until 26 January. For more information and tickets, visit the Tristan Bates Theatre website.