Theatre Review: Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour at Newcastle Theatre Royal
It’s the play that’s sweeping the nation. Penned by Lee Hall (of Billy Elliot fame), Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015 and visits Theatre Royal this week on its national tour. We went along
Warning! This one is not for the faint hearted. Recommended for children aged 16 and over, the show carries the disclaimer ‘contains strong language and explicit adult content of a sexual nature’. This hardly does it justice.
The show opens with the six girls dressed in school uniform harmonising choral music while a statue of the Virgin Mary glows brightly behind them. It soon dissolves into them ripping of their uniforms to reveal their own clothes (short skirts, fishnet tights and crop tops) underneath.
A quick swing of Irn-Bru laced with Metaxa (presumably pinched from an unsuspecting parent) and they’ve also escaped the confines of the convent. It’s not long until they’re discussing their latest conquests, the number of teenage pregnancies and their attempts to break from the regime.
Yes it’s coarse, but it’s also completely believable. Despite being the class geek (or “swot” in my day), I’ll never forget the time I was proudly showing off the amount of alcohol I’d managed to siphon from my parent’s cupboard to my friends before realising that my mum was standing right behind me. Eek. Fortunately she was very understanding.
This is fundamentally a story about teenage girls trying to make their way in the world, and it’s brilliantly written. Whether they’re discovering the intoxicating effects of alcohol and experimenting with drugs for the first time, coming to terms with their sexuality or battling the uncertainty of cancer, we see the girls face up to their biggest fears, all of which are rightly consuming. Yes it’s rude, yes it’s vulgar (trust me, I’ll never look at a cucumber sandwich the same again), but it’s raw and honest, and that’s what makes it so brilliant.
A score of genius was to set it all to music, performed on stage by the all-girl band (this is all about sisters doing it for themselves) and sung by the girls themselves. Classical music – Mendelssohn, Handel and Bach – is used to represent the school singing competition, but also the pressures imposed upon the girls and their inner conscience.
But it’s balanced with the music of ELO, as the girls explore their riotous side and learn that ultimately, ‘it’s alright to be you’. I won’t spoilt it, but Bob Marley makes a very poignant intervention too.
Though I’d heard rave reviews, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, and all I can say is, I loved it. Hats off Mr Hall, you’ve done it again.