Tender and Shocking – “Our Lady of Perpetual Succour”

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Our Ladies-1 credit Manuel Harlan_edited
The girls rehearsing for the chorus competition. Photo by Manuel Harden.

By Karen Isaacs

 Seeing Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, part of the Arts & Ideas Festival, through June 25, was an exercise in dichotomy.  Half the time I found it touching and warm and half the time I wondered why I was sitting at the Yale Rep for the hour and 45 minute production.

The play is a co-production of the National Theatre of Scotland and Live Theater in Newcastle. The show began at the world famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival and has traveled extensively. It recently won the Edinburgh equivalent of a Tony. It is supposedly heading for London’s West End (Broadway).

So what is it all about?  The premise of the play with music is that a group of 18+ year old girls are in the chorus of their school, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, somewhere outside Edinburgh. They are heading into the big city for a chorus competition; they leave by bus on Saturday morning and have the afternoon free before the competition begins in the evening. The play focuses on them the evening before and the afternoon in Edinburgh.

You might think that since the show revolves around older teenagers it would appropriate for the teenage age group. It is not.

The show opens with the girls rehearsing some numbers for the competition: a song by Felix Mendelssohn and one by Bela Bartok.  Their voices sound sweet and pure.

But when we see them away from the school, their personalities and interests change dramatically.  Except for one girl, who is viewed as a “goody two shoes” and comes from more affluent family, these girls appear to be interested only in swearing, drinking liquor and f***ing boys.

This was the half of the play that made me wonder why I was there. They swagger, shout, swear  and do all the things that those who drink excessively do.

Yet, in some quieter moments, we learn more about these girls and their lives. Several tender vignettes show that their lives have been harder, the decisions more difficult, and the hurdles have been higher.  These moments are what kept me in my seat.

The production includes a lot of rock music, none of which was I at all familiar. I am sure that my son recognize some of the composers’ names. For me, much of it sounded like noise.

Another problem is that for many Americans, myself included, the Scottish accent is quite difficult to understand. I really felt at times that I needed supertitles to translate; that combined with the shouting made it often difficult to get only a part of the dialogue.

The performers and musicians are very good. They are energetic and seem at ease with their characters.

How does it end? Well, when the girls show up for the competition they have lost their school uniforms and are drunk.  The final scene is after they have returned home and been expelled.

Lee Hall who adapted this play from the Alan Warner novel, The Sopranos, says in the program that “the play is about how the everyday is translated into the sacred, how the most sordid circumstances of our lives are the conditions of our deliverance, because they are ours. The play is about very ordinary acts of resistance and how that resistance transfigures us and affords us transcendence from the mire of our lives.”

Frankly, I did not get that from this play. I just felt sad for these young women with such limited aspirations.

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is at Yale Rep, New Haven, through Saturday, June 25.  For tickets contact artidea.org.

Our Ladies 6 credit Manuel Harlan_edited
The girls after spending the afternoon in Edinburgh. Photo by Manuel Harden


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