Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, National Theatre of Scotland/Live Theatre Newcastle
“Let’s go fuckin’ mental!!”
The brilliant Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, currently partying in the Dorfman auditorium at the National Theatre in London, is not a play for the easily offended. The above refrain is the oft-repeated battle cry of the Ladies of the title – six Catholic schoolgirls in Edinburgh for a choir competition, trying to get back home to Oban and the Mantrap nightclub – and the newly-arrived submariners they’re hoping it will be filled with.
This is a play that captures the raw energy of teenage life in all its foul-mouthed glory. The young and ridiculously talented cast of six (all female) play both the girls and all the other characters they encounter, ranging from nuns to a whole cornucopia of dodgy blokes. They also sing, with music an integral part of the play (although it’s still a play with music, rather than a full blown musical). The music gives the play some of its strongest moments – whether that’s the girls stripping off their school uniforms to reveal their partying outfits while angelically singing Handel, or the poignant rendition of ‘No Woman, No Cry’ at the end.
The clever set places the action in the aforementioned nightclub –you can almost feel the stickiness of the floors. This and the references to Hooch (essentially a highly alcoholic lemonade, for anyone who doesn’t remember) reminded me of clubbing in my student days, mostly in a nightclub called Fifth Avenue, ‘affectionately’ known as ‘Filth’. Our Ladies is clearly a period piece: there are no mobile phones or internet references, and based on the Hooch reference and the clothes, I’d guess we’re somewhere in the mid-nineties. But it isn’t an exercise in nostalgia. Perhaps because teenage growing pains are universal, whatever technology is available.
What’s not exactly universal is the sympathetic representation of girls gone wild – men behaving badly we’re used to, and we live in a culture which expects and even encourages that, but girls who behave in the same way are a cause for disapproval and hang-wringing. If you’ll forgive me another 1990’s reference, look at the reporting of the so-called ‘ladette’ culture of that era. But, refreshingly, by the end of the play, the girls may have grown up, but they are still defiant. While their actions don’t come without consequences, they’re not victims of them.
The only flaw in my experience of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour came from the audience. From the reaction at the end, they clearly loved it, but they seemed to take a long time to warm up – there were times when it felt like me and my husband (and a random bloke sitting next to us) were the only people laughing. These Ladies deserve an audience that can compete with the raucous joy and sheer energy they bring to the stage.
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour runs at the National Theatre’s Dorfman Theatre until 1st October.