A riotous one-act turn full of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll might not be to everyone’s tastes, but the Duke of York’s Theatre is currently home to a refreshing addition to the West End.
I missed the run at the National Theatre last year, as part of a national tour which led to the production winning “Best New Comedy” at the Olivier Awards a few months ago, so the announcement of a West End transfer was a welcome one.
Based on Alan Warner’s novel The Sopranos, the show features six headstrong Oban girls, heading to Edinburgh for the day to compete in a school choir competition – and to go “f**king mental” at the same time.
I’d not read the novel prior to seeing the show, nor had I wanted to read too much about it – sometimes with a show, it’s nice to go in without any degree of expectation as to what you will see. The notice on entry regarding strong language gave some clues as to what the night might entail – and it didn’t disappoint!
The fast-paced soundtrack of primarily ELO numbers perfectly accompanies the whirlwind day of fun in Edinburgh, and the show plays out almost like a highly caffeinated comic strip, full of action, drama and killer lines.
But don’t presume the show has no heart or is lacking emotion. For all the bravado of the girls, there are always hints to remind the audience that they are taking their first steps into the adult world, with all the uncertainty, fear and trepidation that affords any adolescent. Add into the mix the genuine heartache which comes to light during the show, and you actually get a group of well-rounded characters with real depth to them.
I wish it didn’t feel noteworthy that the core cast of six and the support three-piece onstage band were all young women – the gender imbalance in theatre is improving, definitely with representation onstage and more gradually with the meatier roles – but it really was a joy to see such a tight-knit group take on their principal roles plus a host of peripheral characters.
All six of the cast were fantastic to see -Caroline Deyga and Laura Sweeney as Chell and Manda had some great comic lines and superb delivery. Sweeney also providing a great secondary character as a shy, unassuming lad who walks around with a budgie in a cage, but carefully places the cage on the floor when he’s breakdancing to impress.
Frances McCann as Kylah and Karen Fishwick as Kay delivered astounding vocals, with McCann really giving the show the rocky edge it needed in those high octane band numbers. Fishwick’s portrayal as the seemingly well-to-do Kay was understated and very real throughout. The later two-hander scenes with Kay and the loud, brashy Fionnula, expertly portrayed by Dawn Sievewright, were a meeting of two extremes of the group, and worked very well.
For me, the performance of the show was Isis Hainsworth, who played Orla. Throwing herself into a hedonistic celebration of recovering from cancer, she’s very much the baby of the group, but immediately has the audience onside. Her story unravels throughout the course of the play and you learn more of her experiences in hospital, whilst enjoying watching her develop her romance with the boy-with-the-budgie.
All in all – a heart-warming, riotous coming-of-age story that will leave you half nostalgic for your youth and more than half glad you don’t have to go through that again!
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is playing at the Duke of York Theatre until 2nd September.