Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is for anyone who loves music, stunning melodies, perfectly executed harmonies delivered by an ensemble of six young Scottish women—each as talented as the next—performing everything from traditional Christian hymns to modern rock pop hits accompanied by a small onstage backup band.
That said, Our Ladies...is far from ladylike and is not only not for people under 15, as stated in its publicity, it is not for anyone who embarrasses easily (actually, not that easily), is offended by the F-word used in practically every sentence—or simply finds it tiring, is made squeamish by detailed descriptions of unusual sex acts, disease, and death—often all combined. And, it is not for anyone who doesn’t like to see Catholicism challenged.
The International Festival of Arts & Ideas brings this new musical to New Haven for its American premiere. It’s a co-production of the National Theatre of Scotland and Live Theatre, Newcastle, and is based on the novel The Sopranos by Alan Warner, adapted by Lee Hall. It is directed by Vicky Featherstone, former artistic and founding director of the National Theatre of Scotland.
The story follows a group of parochial school teenagers, who secretly break out of their dorm, strip off their staid plaid jumpers (they’re wearing revealing little skirts and tops underneath) and head for Edinburgh where they dance and sing, drink, and smoke their hearts out at a nightclub getting into all kinds of trouble. After their uniforms are stolen, they are forced to return to “reality” to suffer the wrath of their elders and are predictably expelled.
This is an exceptionally skilled ensemble that narrates its own tragic-comedy story, made up of Caroline Deyga (Chell), Karen Fishwick (Kay), Joanne McGuinness (Orla), Kirsty MacLaren (Manda), Frances Mayli McCann (Kylah), and Dawn Sievewright (Fionnula). Their accents are charming, but sometimes the lines are difficult to decipher.
Martin Lowe, credited with sourcing, arranging, and supervising the music, has done a superb job choosing the classical works that alternate with the tuneful ’70s-’80s songs—mostly by Jeff Lynne of the English Electric Light Orchestra (ELO).
The musical is fun and high-spirited at times, and it is also very dark and depressing, and the contrasts are quite stark.
It is clear what Hall intends in her interpretation of Warner’s book that was published in 1998. She even says in the program about the girls: “They were on the one hand incredibly modern but on the other they were part of a very old vein of British literature going right back to The Wife of Bath and beyond. Here was Life in all its vitality. The Sacred and the Profane smashed together.”
It is obvious that Hall is following the book in juxtaposing the strict, sexist, punishing, religious system of these Catholic schoolgirls’ lives against their inevitable rebellious teenage natures.
In fact, the play starts out with the somber “Lift Thine Eyes” quickly moving into the upbeat “Mr. Blue Sky,” after which they immediately light up cigarettes and start throwing F-bombs around, which is pretty much the set-up for the entire one hour, 45 minute intermission-less musical.
The young women’s anger, confusion, and impetuousness are amplified throughout the show, and yet there are only occasional insights into their home lives, their school lives, and their past lives, that leads them to this place where they each make one terrible decision after another and push every boundary until they’ve practically destroyed their futures, mostly with unwanted pregnancies. Teenage angst is normal, but this level of dysfunction isn’t, and the explanation for how they got to where they are is glaringly missing.
Neither my friend (who attended the performance with me) nor I felt much hope or possibility of transformation at the play’s conclusion. Perhaps it went over both of our heads, but even the final number, “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley and the Wailers, a normally uplifting song with the refrain “Everything’s gonna be alright,” although beautifully, delivered, has a haunting sadness and sense of irony, as if questioning, “Will it really be alright? Really?”
If disturbing and depressing doesn’t faze you, this production may very well challenge and intrigue you. But even if you go see it for the music alone, it’s well worth the price of a ticket.
Performances of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour continue through June 25 at Yale Repertory Theater, 222 York Street, New Haven. Tickets can be purchased online at www.artidea.org.