“How much swearing is there?” I hear an elderly woman ask the usher behind me in the stalls of the Duke of York’s theatre on a Wednesday afternoon. He pauses for a moment, I can tell he’s hesitant to answer her question. “Well, there is rather a lot, as the notice outside says”, he replies. The woman nods and heads to her seat, muttering to her friend who had accompanied her.
I get the concern. Before this show, the Duke of York’s housed The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams’ well-known American classic, a safe bet for audience members. Now, it’s home to a rebellious musical about six Scottish schoolgirls let loose in Edinburgh on a trip to their choir competition: Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour.
It’s full of swearing and naughtiness, as well as brilliant songs, and I can tell why it sold-out not only at Edinburgh Fringe and a UK tour, but at the National Theatre, too, as well as picking up the 2017 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.
From the off, the show reminds me of plays such as Godber’s Teechers and Russell’s Our Day Out, plays which explore the lives of the ordinary teens, the ones who don’t get everything they wish through a comedic plot, but also tug at the audience’s hearts, and deliver a stronger message about unity and finding the common ground between those who seem different from the outside (exemplified in Our Ladies by Kay and Fionnula).
This sense of unity begins with the staging, where on-stage seats are available for audience members. They sit at tables, as if in a cafe, surrounded by the various bottles, cans and other props the cast use. My only qualm, viewing the show from my comfortable seat in the stalls (thanks to an upgrade from the upper circle), was that those sat onstage appeared to have not as good a view. The cast, naturally, play all their scenes outwards to the conventional audience area, and there was little interaction between cast and the onstage audience – which is what I expected there to be. This begs the question as to why audience were placed there at all – was it simply to fit more people into the theatre to see this popular show?
Peppering the scenes and sketches are original songs, with the exception of ‘Mr Blue Sky’. Opening with an A Capella number of their school song, you immediately know the rest of the musical numbers are in good hands as each and every one of these girls can sing, particularly Frances Mayli McCann, who plays Kylah. Songs throughout the show bring in the all-female band, and they are delivered by the girls with gusto and energy, lighting up the theatre with fantastic choreography by Imogen Knight. A particular favourite moment being the way the girls changing out of their uniforms and into their own clothes was depicted through song and contact-based movement.
It’s an absolutely filthy show, if you haven’t gathered already, and a real testament to living as a ’00s teenager. But of course, despite the laughter and the jokes, it does have an incredible amount of heart – you can see how much these six incredible women enjoy performing together, too. There are sensitive moments, such as Orla (Isis Hainsworth) discussing the return of her cancer, and Fionnula (Dawn Sievewright) exploring liking girls.
It’s crude, it’s heart-warming, and it’s great to see a young all-female company taking on the West End by storm. It’s exactly what the West End needs right now where everything appears to be a revival of an old classic or much more appealing to an older demographic of audience. Go see it before it closes in September.
As always, all views are my own. I purhchased my ticket through the TodayTix app: if you’re a first-time user, use my code ECRNE to get £10 off your first order! Photos courtesy of the Our Ladies website.