Benet Catty Productions

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour (WE 2017)

May 17, 2017

Duke of York's

If the title of this fast, funny, relentless energetic show seems off-putting it shouldn't. It has just won the Olivier award for Best New Comedy. It's written by Lee Hall, the writer of Billy Elliot and The Pitmen Painters - my votes for, respectively, the best British musical and the best play of the last fifteen years. It's directed by Vicky Featherstone, the artistic director of The Royal Court, Britain's major new writing theatre. And although not a musical it has its young cast singing songs by 70s rock band ELO. What's not to like about that?

Performed by an ensemble cast of six and based on Alan Warner's novel, Our Ladies follows a gang of Scottish catholic choirgirls as they variously drink, party and sing their way around Edinburgh over a 24 hour period. At one moment they're singing with the angelic choral harmonies you might expect on Christmas Eve; at another they are blasting around the stage performing ELO which they sing with equally dazzling harmonies, often a cappella or sometimes supported by an all-women band. The musical arrangements are by Martin Lowe, who made his name working on Jerry Springer The Opera, and so is gifted at setting music within different idioms.

As one might expect from a show about Catholic schoolgirls, Our Ladies is relentlessly filthy. Though written with the turns of phrase one recognises from Lee Hall's other work, the language and content of the stories the girls tell - one or two of which are gasp-inducing - has the sense of being transcribed from a sixth form common room. But much funnier. As Hall has achieved in his other work, the play's more serious subjects (such as pregnancy) are handled with equal amounts of delicacy and comedy. Even so, those with an aversion to plays with references to body parts or bad language may prefer to stick to The Girls at which "bottom" is about as racy as it gets.

The play is a complete blast and the cast is awe-inspiring, nearly all of whom remain from the show's earlier incarnation at the National (where I saw it a few months ago), and where it was a sell-out. This is the kind of show that will inspire teenagers to go to the theatre, write plays, learn to sing and maybe even dig out their parents' ELO LPs.

It feels wonderful that such an anarchic show, hailing originally from Scotland rather than the South Bank, can become a hit in the West End and be a richer, much better musical and emotional experience than several of the major musicals that are running in sight of it.

The play, like the harmonies, is pitch perfect.

Those of you looking for a family show for a summer trip to London and who have been put off by my dislike of School of Rock and The Girls may want to have a go at The Wind in the Willows which is just about to begin previews at the London Palladium.

Based on the Kenneth Grahame's 1908 novel, the story last received a big London stage incarnation 25 years ago when Nicholas Hytner directed Alan Bennett's gorgeous adaptation at the National. Now it gets a long awaited musical treatment from those kings of English whimsy George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, whose Mary Poppins and Half a Sixpence (all co-written with Downton Abbey's Julian Fellowes) generated such tuneful, charming, witty evenings out. Half a Sixpence, the best musical of last year, closes in September and is still worth seeing. Both are directed by Rachel Kavanaugh and designed by Peter McKintosh.
The Wind in the Willows was tried out in Plymouth, Salford and Southampton last year, and with appropriate nipping and tucking will open at the Palladium in a cast lead by Rufus Hound (who was so funny and charming in the great Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) supported by Gary Wilmot and Denise Welch.

A classic story adapted by exactly the right people and in perhaps the most famous theatre in the world. Lots of reasons to be hopeful. I'll let you know....

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