Describing Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour as a musical about a convent-school choir is a bit like describing Tracey Emin’s My Bed as a place to get some sleep. It’s strictly accurate, but likely to leave anyone expecting a quiet night in for a shock.
For while this play, adapted by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot; The Pitmen Painters) from Alan Warner’s 1998 novel The Sopranos, does tell the tale of six girls heading down from Oban to Edinburgh for a singing contest, it’s less Grange Hill and more Gargantua and Pantagruel. Booze, banging, bawdiness and blasphemy flow freely as they ditch their school uniforms and go on a 24-hour bender while belting out anything from Agnus Dei to the Electric Light Orchestra.
But between the pints of profanity come shots of something more serious, as the girls’ trip away from home marks a crossing of the Rubicon between adolescence and adulthood. Orla’s (Melissa Allan) lust for life stems from having had cancer; Fionnula (Dawn Sievewright) starts to question her sexuality; Manda (Kirsty MacLaren) is so depressed about her dad’s unemployment she says she has to put powdered milk in the bath – “like Cleopatra” – to cheer herself up.
They are all fully rounded and fabulously flawed individuals, and while they might (mostly) be dead set upon getting to the legendary Mantrap club to get laid, men are not the be-all and end-all of their worlds. These girls are proud and unapologetic about who they are: whatever class, dress size or orientation. Pitiful as it is to say it, this is still a rarity when so many female characters occupy the same stage.
As well as playing the main parts, each of the actresses also bounds with irrepressible energy in and out of a handful of other roles, from brawny bouncer to stern schoolmistress. The Royal Court’s Vicky Featherstone directs a riotously exhilarating night of theatre, packed full of belly laughs and memorable music. Yet like many a wild, booze-fuelled night out, while it seems a lot of fun at the time, it’s not the kind of thing I’d want to do every night.
The National Theatre’s Dorfman Theatre
Running til October 1st.
Find out more on the website