‘It’s not a play exactly. It’s certainly not a musical. It’s probably more like a gig than anything else.’ That’s Lee Hall talking, the adaptor of Alan Warner’s brazen, stomping tale of convent schoolgirls over here from the west coast. The National Theatre of Scotland premieres it at the Traverse, and it’s a belter; give Mother Superior the finger, and go rally to their banging anthem of ELO’s Don’t Bring Me Down (1979).
The girls are in the school choir, and are off to Edinburgh for the finals of Choir of the Year. They leave Argyll at gone six in the morning and have the afternoon to spare in the capital. The sensible knee-length kilts are stripped off in a McDonalds’ toilet; there’s a miraculous change of clothes, and then it’s off to the pubs. They return home in time for the smoochy numbers in their ‘Mantrap’ of a club. Sixth Years in a bar with sailors from Faslane? The wicked, lovely, Fionnula has a nice line in understatement: ‘There’s more to life than choir competitions.’
Be warned, this is not a ‘gig’ for the pure of heart. These are girls who sing gently ‘of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ yet do one hell of a lot of sinning. They demonstrate exactly how the Word was made carnal; they talk sex, they have sex, they drink for Scotland and magic mushroom lagers are on tap. It is all very, very funny, as long as you keep Alan Warner’s ‘young loonies’ out of the real world, where they’d be desperate.
The Bouncer on the Mantrap door stops three of them from getting in; ‘Off to your mammies’ is his put-down. But that would be tragic. This lot, all six of them, are brilliant on stage together because with or without the supporting band, they’re a live wire act. Even their speech – furious and foul as it is – has a choreographed quality.
If Our Ladies teeters occasionally (and I think it does), it’s not the performance, the hooch and the Sambuca Challenge to blame, but the mawkish set-tos with ‘issues’ of deprivation and social exclusion. Teenage cancer is enough of a focal point (Orla has it, and passes for fourteen because of the chemotherapy) without also having to accommodate Kay’s UCAS points and her posh house that looks down on the Port. It's a bit of a cursed blessing from the source text, I suppose, but it could do with more trimming for the stage.
Despite that reservation, though, director Vicky Featherstone and her creative team have a ‘hit’. Not pitch perfect, but pretty damn close.