Watching Sister Amnesia’s Country and Western Nunsense Jamboree brought me right back to a long-forgotten primary school experience. We would all be funnelled into the gym hall, the head teacher would announce that we had some special guests visiting the school, and that they had brought a show to perform for us. Wild, uninhibited excitement exploded from every kid that was there. We all then collectively experienced the crushing realisation that what we were watching was in fact a hastily put-together, faintly religious play about a nondescript moral. Remove the morals and the experience of watching this musical was almost identical. The show reeked of forced fun.
With this premise, I do not understand why the show was not outstanding in every way; why it was not a ready-made camp classic.
Sister Amnesia was hit on the head by a giant crucifix. She woke up and realised she was a country and western star. She is now on tour with a wannabe ballerina, a street-wise nun from Brooklyn and a priest who is also a DJ. There are so many puns. With that premise, I do not understand why the show was not outstanding in every way; why it was not a ready-made camp classic. Or at least a low-rent Sister Act. Why was something so clearly made of pure gold such a trial to watch? Let’s investigate…
It was the script.
Whilst not all the faults of this production can be blamed on Dan Goggins’ source material, it’s at the root of most of the issues. The show, aimed primarily at children, has no plot. Aside from a brief interlude in which the nuns need to raise some quick cash, the target audience of the musical – whom I would argue need some semblance of a story to engage – have nothing to pull them along. They have to make do with “subversive” numbers about how hard it is get a man when you’re a nun (wink wink!).
Honestly, the kids in the audience seemed as perplexed as I did. I’m not surprised given the hour-long karaoke session was stuffed to the brim with mid-90s American cultural references. There is an entire sing-a-long dedicated to 60s country singer Patsy Cline. There was also a joke about Chernobyl. And “nudge nudge” jokes that were less “nudge nudge”, rather, “we just made a HILARIOUS SEX JOKE”. Needless to say, it was an odd choice for an Edinburgh Fringe family show.
However the misgivings of this production cannot be entirely blamed on the script. The set was a little on the tackier side and it must be said some of the southern accents sounded a touch Glaswegian. There were some decent vocals and fine comedic performances – particularly from the actors portraying Sister Mary Leo and Sister Robert Anne – but they were buried in numbers which were either trite or borderline distasteful (looking at you “The Perfect Plot”).
It is impossible to hate this show. The performers were endearing and their hearts were clearly in the right place. But praise Jesus I wanted to.