Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour at the National Theatre
With the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in full swing, the National Theatre has a treat for those who can’t make it to Scotland, importing one of last year’s biggest successes, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour. An adaptation of Alan Warner’s 1998 novel The Sopranos by Billy Elliot scribe Lee Hall and Royal Court artistic director Vicky Featherstone, the play follows six of the titular school’s classmates as they embark on a day of debauchery, scored by a mix of choral interludes and classic 70s pop-rock.
Among the multiple dives into ELO’s back catalogue is a show that is as heart-filled as it is filthy: in fact, one of the most appealing things about the play is its ability to be tender without ever succumbing to saccharine sentimentality or sacrificing its impressively high jokes-per-minute count. The best example of this comes halfway through the narrative, as the sickly Orla (Melissa Allan) describes a disastrous attempt at cancer-ward copulation that manages to capture the fragility of the human body and the terror of a young girl prematurely facing death, all the while being outrageously, disgustingly funny.
It’s a trend that runs throughout the entire production; the performers getting to have their cake and eat it in terms of coming-of-age heft and foul-mouthed comedy. All six actors are infuriatingly talented, the strength of their voices (for they perform all the songs backed by a three-piece band) only matched by their razor-sharp comic timing. As a group they ooze chemistry, especially when they take on the guise of the various creeps, perverts and wrong ‘uns that loiter at the peripheries of their story. It feels unfair to pick standouts, though Dawn Sievewright and Karen Fishwick arguably nab both the biggest laughs and most lingering emotional moments as Fionnula and Kay respectively.
It’s not just the Scottish accents that brings to mind Trainspotting. Like Irvine Welsh’s novel (and, to a lesser extent, Danny Boyle’s film), Our Ladies threads a series of personal narratives into one overarching plot with the same kind of blood-pumping raw dialogue found in its more hedonistic older brother. What separates Our Ladies from Trainspotting isn’t just the age of its protagonists (and the liberal use of heroin), but their gender. It shouldn’t be radical in 2016 to show a group of young women openly looking for, and enjoying, sex and alcohol without some patronising moral lesson tacked onto the end. It shouldn’t be, but it is, and that in part is what makes the play so invigorating.
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is on at the Dorfman Theatre at the National Theatre from 10th August to 1st October 2016. Book your tickets here.