In Edinburgh Festival, Musicals, Regional theatre, Reviews, Scotland by Thom DibdinLeave a Comment

✭✭✭✭✭    Riotous assembly

Traverse Theatre (Venue 15): Tues 18 – Sun 30 Aug 2015

Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour is a massive beast of a thing, beautifully crafted in its ragged humanity and utterly irresistible.

The National Theatre of Scotland and Live Theatre’s co-production is an adaptation of Alan Warner’s celebrated rites-of-passage book The Sopranos. The new title for Lee ‘Billy Elliot’ Hall’s version is an understandable attempt to prevent anyone believing this would be about gangsters. Its unwieldiness is by far the least satisfactory thing about the whole enterprise.

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

From the moment the girls from an Oban Catholic school finish their rendition of Mendelssohn’s Lift Thine Eyes, light their cigarettes and start on a sweary discussion of their year’s record number of pregnancies, we are on a trip far longer than their upcoming journey to Edinburgh to take part in a choir competition. Their desires are to ‘go mental,’ find drink and sex in the capital and return home in time to snare some hungry submariners in the Mantrap disco.

The cast of six, who play all of the necessary other parts between them, are magnificent. As the girls, they are a foulmouthed force of nature, an epic conglomeration of human needs, wants and foibles adrift on a sea of alcopops. In the other roles, they are stunningly versatile, as subtle or as crude as occasion demands.

The ensemble is as strong as anything you could ever hope to see. Melissa Allan (Orla), Caroline Deyga (Chell), Karen Fishwick (Kay), Kirsty MacLaren (Manda), Frances Mayli McCann (Kylah) and Dawn Sievewright (Fionnula) play individuals who are searching for different things, and for different reasons, but are equally believable and equally compelling.

a timeless feel

The evocation of an era not long departed but resolutely pre-mobiles and pre-social media, when Brookside was still on TV, helps to add a peculiar innocence. There is also a timeless feel to it all, with musical theatre sentimentality overlaid with Scottish magic realism and a handful of grit that transcends any localism and takes on an almost mythic grandeur.

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour. Photo Mihaela Bodlovic

The staging is more gig than musical, and more like good old-fashioned politically-informed Scottish touring theatre than either, in its ‘let’s do the show right here’ vibe. Late 70s cheese like ELO or Judie Tzuke, that would already have been dated in the period depicted, is given new life by utterly committed performances from the singers and musical accompaniment from the band of Amy Shackcloth, Becky Brass and Emily Linden.

Vicky Featherstone’s direction is energetic to an almost obscene degree, and the overall effect is of a huge wave crashing over everything in its path. There is pathos, humour and tunefulness in great supply, with an enormous impact that still does not steamroller the subtleties of the characterisations.

The musings on individuality, peer and family pressure, disappointment and fulfilment are unforced and bittersweet, with stereotypes generally avoided. When they do surface, it is only to make specific points about human nature in a way that stretches all the way back to Chaucer.

As always, it would be possible to carp. However realistic the characterisation may be, there is the occasional element that seems more like male fantasy. The feeling that this is a shamelessly manipulative attempt to mount a West End-bound ELO jukebox musical that if not feelgood, is at least not feelterrible, might very well pop up in a less rigorous production.

But the unstoppable momentum of this production admits no such objections. It surely is West End bound, and must tour beyond that. So don’t feel bad if you can’t lay your hands on one of those hen’s teeth tickets, because this will probably run forever, and quite rightly too.

Running time 1 hour 40 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15) 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 18  – Sunday 30 August 2015
Daily  (not Mondays), times vary
Rest of run sold out. Queue for returns
Details on EdFringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/our-ladies-of-perpetual-succour
Traverse website: http://www.traverse.co.uk/

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour on tour 2015: 18-30 Aug Edinburgh
Traverse Theatre 0131 228 1404 Book online 8-12 Sept Glasgow
Tron Theatre 0141 552 4267 Book online 15-16 Sept Aberdeen
Lemon Tree 01224 641122 Book online 18-19 Sept Inverness
Eden Court 01463 234 234 Book online 22-23 Sept Kirkcaldy
Adam Smith Theatre 01592 583302 Book online 25-26 Sept Musselburgh
The Brunton 0131 665 2240 Book online 1-24 Oct Newcastle
Live Theatre 0191 232 1232 Book online



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Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. He tweets from @AllEdinTheatre and, personally, from @ThomDibdin.

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