Original cast for Our Ladies.

Eye-wateringly bad language, sexual references in abundance, and a show of raucous liberation from start to finish: audiences, you have been warned. This one’s a good one, says Rachel Bailey, but not for the narrow-minded.

The current promotional poster at The Duke of York’s Theatre in London depicts six smiling Catholic choir girls with colourful halos around their heads, all looking squeaky clean and unoffending. 

But don’t be fooled: Our Ladies is neither holy nor innocent. Not by a long shot. What it is is a laugh a minute, poignant, rude beyond belief, at times heart-breaking, and above all a triumph in script writing.

Our Ladies is a show about six Scottish girls from Oban who go to Edinburgh to enter a choir competition. Far from being respectable Catholic girls, this group of comrades are wild – they want sexual encounters, they want alcohol, they want the world, and they want it now.

What the promotional material for Our Ladies doesn’t tell you is that this show is a story about growing up. It’s also a laugh-out-loud comedy, and it’s a musical – sort of, what with the various interludes of Electric Light Orchestra songs. Oh, and it’s a play, too. (Please don’t get confused and expect a fun musical about ELO; it is not, and you will be shocked by what you see instead).

This production is pretty unconventional as West End shows go, although I say that because of the content more than anything else. I can’t think of anything to compare it to, expect perhaps The Book of Morman. But that’s only for the shock factor of both shows – and Our Ladies multiples it by at least 20.

Original cast for Our Ladies. image by Manuel Harlan

Pictured: The cast for Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour. (Photo credit: Manuel Harlan).

Prepare for every swear word under the sun in the first ten minutes. And I mean EVERY swear word. This is not a production for the prudish nor the faint-hearted. This is a show that makes jokes about cancer; passes comment on bestiality and incest in a way that can only be described as blasé; and reverts gender roles to portray women in a way that’s as far away from the Princess Jasmines of Theatreland as you can get.

However, beneath the vulgar words and deeds, there are some moments of absolute purity. Like Fionnula revealing that she’s a lesbian; Kay crying over an unwanted pregnancy; and Chell having a breakdown over her estranged father. These life lessons, hard as they are to swallow, shine through the sheer filth to depict a tale of growing up, of discovering who you are, and of learning about life the hard way.

The six women each play an equal part in the production, and each has her own story to tell. It’s the intertwining and revelation of these stories that makes Our Ladies the masterpiece that it is; the choir competition plot line just helps drive the character arcs along. Dawn Sievewright as Fionnula and Caroline Delgado as Chell must be commended for their comedic timing. Every character is funny but these two bagged the best lines.

The show is strong musically, as well. The vocals from each individual are fantastic; a personal favourite for me was the voice of Kirsty MacLaren in the role of Manda. How she hit those high notes was almost beyond comprehension. Tight six-piece harmonies, soaring melodies and high-pitched choral pieces sound out of nowhere, and the familiar hits of ELO, like Mr Blue Sky, suitably reflect the various scenarios the girls find themselves in.

This show will not be for everyone and so if you do decide to promote it to your group, make sure everyone knows what they’re signing up for. It is at times controversial (I certainly had a moment or two where I thought: they can’t say that out loud, can they?), but maybe that’s what will make this show appealing to future audiences. It completely breaks tradition on ‘theatre etiquette’. For me, it’s a welcome shot of hilarity into the West End, and I recommend it without hesitation.

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is playing at The Duke of York’s Theatre until 2nd September, and discounts are available for groups of eight or more people on selected performances.

Lead image: Original cast for Our Ladies. (Photo credit: Manuel Harlan).