Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Duke of York’s Theatre

7/10

A transfer from the NT, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is the perfect Friday night show: ballsy, bawdy, full of fine performances and uplifting songs. Do go and see it – but don’t go  expecting much of a plot.

Given that the action revolves around wayward schoolgirls and choirs, comparisons with St Trinian’s  and Pitch Perfect are unavoidable. It’s true the show bears all the well-established hallmarks of a British caper movie, including a script that is high on fast-paced laughs and low on real action. We meet six convent schoolgirls from Oban, they tell us about their lives and do some naughty things, there’s a brief attempt at a plot as they go to Edinburgh for the day to attend a choir competition. There’s then a section where we peek behind the masks to see that one of the young hellraisers is dying, one is pregnant, one is in love with her best friend, and so forth. It’s a valuable teaching moment in Tory Britain: watching this, the inhabitants of Tunbridge Wells can learn that even people with ASBOs can experience personal growth.

Mixed in with all of this are some fantastic renditions of some rather everyday songs. For me, they evoked the peculiarity of being a teenager through the sort of middle-of-the-road music that seems to surround you when growing up. It’s that period where you start taking ownership of the music your parents play, still bound by their tastes as you reject your standards, getting ready to be your own person. I was a 15 year-old UB40 fan (thanks, dad). Our ladies love ELO.

So far, so what? Incredibly, though its premise is slight – this show lives or dies on its humour – the end result is an incredible ride. This is principally because of the dazzling wit of the script and outstanding performances by Dawn Sievewright, Frances Mayli McCann and Kirsty MacLaren in particular. The actors grab their roles with both hands and make the audience love them, managing to counteract some of the more cloying moments at the end with the sheer force of their charisma.

Best of all, it’s an entirely female-fuelled show, with occasional male roles being taken on by the leads, allowing us to see these characters only as the girls see them and – for once! – for all the men to be filtered through a female gaze.

 

To Barry Norman, my unlikely hero

Standing at the Tories Out! demo in central this afternoon, I learned that journalist, broadcaster and film critic Barry Norman had died. And my heart hurt.

There aren’t many people out there who inspire me, but if it hadn’t been for that man my love of cinema – real cinema – might never have developed and certainly wouldn’t have come about as early in my life as it did.

For the whole of the 1990s, Norman’s BBC TV show introduced me to films, directors and ways of thinking about film that I might never have accessed otherwise. He inspired me to seek out great cinema, follow careers read histories of film. Many of my favourite films I learned about from watching his show and I grew up desperately wanting his job, which in turn inspired me to document my thoughts about films and later on about plays.

So many of my early life decisions were inspired by this secret ambition: I wrote about films for my French A level coursework and took a film course in my first year at university because I wanted to look at film differently, with a critical eye. I hated that course – and yet it changed my way of thinking and absorbing art forever.

Since then, I have read, watched, written, spoken and listened widely about film. None of Norman’s successors ever came close in my esteem. There might have been others more literary, but none has had the same profound effect on my intellectual life. He has always remained my favourite film critic.

Thank you, Barry. Thank you so very much.