Once A Catholic

As the press pack informs us Mary O’Malley’s Once a Catholic is a comedy centering around the lives of three Marys (Mooney, McGinty and Gallagher) at a convent school in North London in the 1950s. The three girls must deal with the equal pressures of exams, boys and the sadistic sisters that teach them, whilst ensuring that they do not risk eternal damnation by committing too many mortal sins. Contains sex, nuns and rock n' roll. Unfortunately in this production by students from Southampton University they seem to have left out most of the comedy.This is more the fault of the directors than performers. Sophie Paterson and Simon Thompson seem to have missed the point. Though it is indeed a comedy, it has very serious points to make about corruption of young minds and the sinister, life-changing power of organized religion. It is only in playing it straight that the comedy emerges. Too many of these young actors have been encouraged to “go for the laugh” which leads to the audience being ahead of the gag and some horrendous overacting, particularly from the three nuns played here with almost unbearably shrill Irish accents.The main character is Mary Mooney, (Katrina Sale), a totally innocent girl who actually believes all of the propaganda and indoctrination force-fed to her by both her family and this school. Her journey should be one of pathos and bathos. When she puts here hand up in Catechism class to ask the priest what the sin of Sodom is she genuinely wants to know. Her behaviour is interpreted by the nuns as perverse and deliberately antagonistic. Because of her naivety and belief in the goodness of people Mooney’s path takes into dark areas, including what amounts to sexual abuse. Sale has her moments, but even she is guilty of misinterpreting areas of the text. She is, however, the best of the girls, with Nick Barclay’s Father Malarkey the best of the guys. The others, however, lack the comic technique and timing necessary to make this work. Too much downward inflecting, too much fidgeting when the focus would be on another actor - just too much really!That the point of the piece has been missed is never better summed up than in the final moment. The irony of the tale is that the sadistic nuns fail to realise that Mary Mooney is the one girl they have been successful in indoctrinating. She tells them she wants to become a nun, and because of her “bad behaviour” they doubt her vocation. She’s given one more chance to redeem herself. Unfortunatley she gets the blame for a piece of obscenity and blasphemy committed by another girl.That “blasphemy” should be truly shocking, even to non-believers. The script requires that a huge plasticine phallus is attached to the large crucifix that should dominate the set. A crucifix is different to the plain wooden cross used in this production. It must have, like all Catholics crosses, the dying, and virtually naked Christ figure on it. O’Malley’s script requires that the phallus is attached to the Christ figure in the appropriate place. It is a shocking image, but sums up the writer’s attitude to the religion and her own schooldays. In this production a smallish phallus was simply rested against the plain wooden cross piece.I admire the endeavor of any company that gets to Edinburgh, particularly these days. But give your elves a chance, guys. Choose a play that your abilities match up to, and at least understand what it is trying to say. Otherwise it’s all just mumbo jumbo.Unlike Catholicism, of course.

The Blurb

Join the girls of class 5A as they navigate their final year at Our Lady of Fatima's convent school in stern 1950s London. Mary O'Malley's touching and comic story of coming of age, sex, nuns, and rock'n'roll.