Saturday, 28 May 2016

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour @ SECC

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a problem. Tonight I went to see a well received and well reviewed play by the National Theatre of Scotland. Written by Lee Hall, who did Billy Elliot, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is an alcohol drenched, sex obsessed romp that follows director Vicky Featherstone's once-stated commitment to make theatre that is a good night out, and not a stuffy evening of academic performance.

I think that I like stuffy evenings. I got very little pleasure from Our Ladies. I thought the musical choices were arbitrary - not illustrating the themes of the play, but singalong anthems to hide the sloppy character development. 

Knowing that I have a problem is the first step. My problem is that I go to the theatre for a transcendent experience. Surrounded by an audience which is clearly enjoying itself, I wonder whether I am the right person to be reviewing unashamedly popular theatre. 

The cast are brilliant: great singers, full of energy and, when called upon to give a monologue, moving and passionate. The script has its moments: Hall can write a speech full of detail and suggestion, although he might be leaning on the source novel, The Sopranos. Featherstone keeps things running at a good pace. 

But this is barely theatre. Take a pivotal scene, when two of the young women are discussing their tentative desire. They kiss, they break, and one explains to the other that it isn't going to work. So the other  turns to the audience and says her heart is broken.

That's narrative, not theatre. Why couldn't she have acted her heartbreak? Why have the subtext spelled out so clumsily? There is so much chat to the audience - just like in the recent adaptation of The Iliad at The Lyceum - that actual performance of emotion is replaced by words. Some people call this Brechtian. I don't.

I realise that I am in a minority here. The audience lap it up - possibly because the format ('closer to a gig,' say the programme notes) allows plenty of space for those show stopping numbers. 

And there are loads of reviews that give it four stars. I am nothing if not pragmatic. I want to give the cast and direction the respect they deserve. So I turn to the reviews for answers. 

All I got is plot summaries and bland statements that it is good, or superb, or dynamic. There's no argument, no suggestions of why reading the book would not give me everything the play has. 

So, I am left with a few questions.

If my opinion is so different from the audience around me, does that make my opinion less valid?

Am I just a terrible snob who can't have a good time (I have been annoyed by Breakfast at Tiffany's, too, this week, another populist adaptation which refuses to develop dramatic tension)?

Has the review become little more than an exercise in rewriting the synopsis and few qualitative adjectives? 

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