Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour

Combining the bawdy naughtiness of St Trinian's, the desire to escape sobriety, language and depiction of true Scottishness of Trainspotting, with beautiful choral harmonies and ELO-heavy rock performances, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour may not be your expected National Theatre mixture but is an energy-filled show that likes to shake you out of your seat from the start.

Hall says in his introduction that "in many ways this play is more like a gig than a play" and seeing it in this way makes it a very enjoyable night

With such an unusual mix of parts making up the whole, it's somewhat surprising that the stories that unfold are anything but as unusual or unexpected - weaving together well-worn themes of adolescents searching for fun, escape, (booze and sex), whilst occasionally revealing their inner turmoils and secrets. But the energy and enjoyment shown on stage by this talented, young, all-female cast make for a mostly fun night - if at times, being somewhat exhausting to follow.

Opening like a concert, the convent schoolgirls deliver a beautiful version of Mendelssohn before flipping into comic scenes that hurriedly try to explain the background to each character - interspersed with straight-to-audience delivery and multi-playing other bit part cartoon characters - to set up what we need to know as soon as possible so we can get on with the story. There's the 'posh' one, the 'tart', the 'cancer survivor' - all obviously having secrets to unfold - and the 'larger' girl, the 'poor' one and the 'Asian'. (This isn't me rushing to stereotype, it's what is clearly being put in front of us and feels that it has a point.) The introductions are done at such a pace - which rarely relents throughout - that even though their 'badges' are shinily obvious, it still takes a while to remember who is who, as the scenes change so quickly and the dialogue so excited as to be sometimes close to shouting.

We then follow their teenage 'night to remember' - going to the big city to enter a choral competition but using the time to get drunk and get laid...and genuinely get into trouble. On their adventure they meet - and take turns playing - the other usual suspects; most men being cliched 'bastards' of sorts (arrogant bouncer, depressed divorcee, scary drug dealer, older lech displaying a huge - *ahem* - arm (that's how it's shown, not me being coy)). They perform all the characters to great comic effect but no depth over the cliche seems to be required.

Through the night they learn, and reveal, a little more about themselves and get to know each better along the way (if that sounds like a movie tagline, it's likely that it has been). It's a commendable idea as they strive to avoid "going through life and you've never done what you could" - it's just that the characters and their emotions are so unsurprising that you're more comfortable laughing at the many references to spunk, wanking and blow jobs than you are caring about the somewhat clunkier monologues and scenes of 'revelation'.

Lee Hall has adapted the play from Alan Warner's novel, The Sopranos, and he has history with Billy Elliot (and The Pitmen Painters) of showing the power that the artistic world can have on the working-class. Here, the music is the thin line that brings these girls together (all being in the same choir that takes them on their mutual journey) but it isn't the dream that keeps them alive, mostly being more of a soundtrack than a plot device. But that doesn't detract from its power where the girls truly bring the theatre to life. Each of them has a unique quality to their voice that excites you in their solos and brings tears and cheers as a group - especially Dawn Sievewright's Fionnula who has a certain gravelliness that does add some deeper emotion to her character.

Hall says in his introduction that "in many ways this play is more like a gig than a play" and seeing it in this way makes it a very enjoyable night - and a worthy winner of the many plaudits received when it opened in Edinburgh in 2015 (and toured since). I loved the music numbers without exception (and never realised I knew so many Jeff Lynne songs) and would definitely vote them through to the Britain's Got Talent final. But I really wished they'd just sing - or at least relax with the comedy in the interspersing scenes, rather than try to put across a deeper message that feels unnecessary. That's not to say the acting is bad - there's just no real meat to the characters for the actors to get their teeth into and show their true potential.

What you have here is lots of easy laughs and easy tears (if that's what you want) that seem to try too hard and so get in the way of the singing rather than add to it. Again, the music is brilliant and it's just funny enough and just interesting enough to carry a weak plot line (that isn't as deep as it thinks it is), but if it wasn't for the music jolting me back to life, at two hours this would have been more than enough for me. 

Reviews by Simon Smith

Dorfman Theatre

Home, I'm Darling

★★
Olivier Theatre

Exit the King

Royal Court Theatre

Pity

★★
National Theatre

The Lehman Trilogy

★★★★★
Lyttelton Theatre

Julie

★★★★
Olivier Theatre

Translations

★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

musical play about losing your virginity and finding yourself.

This award-winning production arrives at the National following a sell-out run at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe and a national tour. It’s adapted by Billy Elliot author Lee Hall and directed by Vicky Featherstone, Artistic Director of the Royal Court, with music arranged and supervised by Martin Lowe (Once).

Funny, sad and raucously rude, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is adapted from Alan Warner's brilliant novel about six girls on the cusp of change. Young, lost and out-of-control, they’re hit by love, lust, and pregnancy and death over the course of a single day.

Contains singing, sex and Sambuca. Contains strong language and adult themes