Review: Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour @ the Dorfman Theatre
August 11, 2016
Stories that celebrate the hedonistic search for sex, booze and drugs tend to centre on young, male characters and their bonds of friendship. Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, the new play with songs by Lee Hall, adapted from the novel The Sopranos by Alan Warner, concerns similar escapades, but the protagonists, six raucous and irreverent Scottish schoolgirls, are characters we rarely get to see take centre stage. And wow, do they take centre stage.
We meet the girls, seemingly demure in their school uniforms, as they rehearse for the choir competition for which they are to embark on a trip to Edinburgh. We quickly realise there is a hotbed of restless energy as well as denim and lycra beneath those uniforms. Drunk on illicit hooch before they even arrive, the girls experience a string of increasingly surreal encounters as they hunt for their next party, taking in a string of ‘pervs’ hitting on them with tired lines – easily countered – magic mushroom lager, indoor fireworks, a boy with a budgie, and a man in a suit who “looks like Bryan Ferry” and cuts off his own toe in an attempt to seduce them. On the way, friendships deepen, and truths are confronted with chutzpah and courage, some of them more than most adults ever have to bear.
This is a play with songs rather than musical theatre. The musical arrangement, by Martin Lowe, is largely made up of beautiful choral arrangements and ELO songs – songs that one character, Kylah, has learnt from her dad’s record collection. The music works to evoke and heighten emotion rather than progress the story. This works most effectively at points of high energy, such as a spirited version of ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’, or a touching and poignant rendition of ‘Wild West Hero’. At other times, it felt like the story was paused in order for another musical number to be performed.
The performances are excellent, with the actors showcasing breathtaking singing voices as well as impressive dramatic range, as they take on the parts of all of the supporting characters. This is done to great comic effect, particularly in their sending up of the macho swagger of some of the men who try to pick them up in various bars and nightclubs.
Hall worked with the actors in the rehearsal room, amending the script according to their suggestions, and this ownership of the story comes across in their performances. There is heaps of theatrical playfulness, with lemonade bottles standing in for phones and sports bags for seaweed. The final scene is introduced by one character as ‘the final scene’. The sheer joy and irreverence of this approach is quite infectious.
Even if at times the play feels more like a series of events rather than a fully rounded narrative, it’s a show that adds up to more than the sum of its parts. A celebration of friendship and understanding between young women, as well as their willingness to face the future with reckless spirit and unqualified joy, it is refreshing to see a play with young female characters completely lacking in dysfunction or victimhood. Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is an exuberant, raucous piece that deserves your time. Order your flaming sambucas for the interval and take a seat.
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour plays at the Dorfman Theatre, part of London’s National Theatre, until 1 October.