Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Theater Review: Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour -- Yale Rep (New Haven Festival)

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Looking for Succour in All the Wrong Places
By Lauren Yarger
Sacred meets profane, Mendelssohn meets The Electric Light Orchestra and six young girls lose their innocence while discovering themselves in Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, a presentation at Yale Repertory Theatre as part of New Haven’s Festival of Arts and Ideas.

This marks the American premiere of the show, adapted by Billy Elliot author Lee Hall from “The Sopranos” by Alan Warner. It is a co-production by the National Theatre of Scotland and Live Theatre, Newcastle and is directed by Vicky Featherstone, who headed the National.

It follows the tale of six girls from Our Lady of Perpetual Succour as they travel to Edenborough to compete in a choral contest. We already have heard them perform a sublime a cappella version of Lift Thine Eyes by Mendelssohn while standing angelically in their school uniforms and rock out to the music of Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne, so we know they have the musical chops to make Perpetual Succour a contender.  (The music is arranged and supervised by Martin Lowe. A three-piece band accompanies on stage.)

Unbeknownst to their Mother Superior, Sister Condron (whom they, of course, call Condom), however, the girls also see the trip as a chance to break away from the stifling Catholic school environment and “go mental.” Translation:  swear a lot, get rip-roaring drunk and enjoy lots of sexual experiences.  

The girls have different motivations for wanting to go “mental. “ Orla (Joanne McGuinness ) is looking for an escape from the cancer she has been fighting;  Kay (Karen Fishwick ) is looking for some fun before going off to university, Fionnula (Dawn Sievewright) already has some sexual experience, but is looking for love and Chell (Caroline Deyga), is escaping the abundance of death that has marked her young life. The motives for Manda (Kirsty MacLaren), Kylah (Frances Mayli McCann) and Chell (Caroline Deyga) are less obvious.

They do a lot of their intended activities on that bus trip while some make discoveries about their sexual orientation.  One of them already has some experience, at least when it comes to sex with a guy: she is pregnant.

“Excuse me but I think I’m passionately in love with you or your friend or both of yous, ah don’t really have ma emotions about yous sorted out yet. Is there a chance I could ask you out tonight in any combination? I’ll give you every drug on me for your phone number,” says one of the men they meet.

“All we need is fifty pence each for the busfare,” replies Fionnula.

Now if all of that sounds like a good time to you, you would be in the same category as Hall, who apparently read the original book and thought it was so funny that he couldn’t wait to adapt it for the stage. Waiting involved for me, however, looking at my watch in the hopes that we were near the end and discovering that we had another 50 minutes before the final curtain (the show runs one hour and 45 minutes without intermission).

I guess a bunch of young girls having sexual experiences with undesirable men (one invites them for some fun while doing a naked handstand to give full view of his erection) and each other just isn’t my cup of tea. The singing was the best part of the show as the voices are all very good (Dayga in particular has a wide range including a heavenly lower register) and blend beautifully in harmony.

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour plays through June 25 at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven. For more information about what’s happening at the Festival of Arts and Ideas, visit www.artidea.org.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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