Review: Once A Catholic at the Royal Court Theatre

Katherine Rose Morley Molly Logan and Amy Morgan

Katherine Rose Morley Molly Logan and Amy Morgan

First published in News
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by , Reporter

I MUST confess when I first saw Mary O Malley's comedy Once A catholic in the late-1970s. I was offended by the content matter.

Catholic guilt, indeed.

Granted - then - as now I was confused that anything so sacred could be so funny.

I was taught by nuns and Christian Brothers who ensured that I let school aware of any of life's future clerical errors and with a rounded education for which I am forever grateful.

Writer Mary O'Malley's debut production made its un-holy communication with audiences back in 1977, and two years later it was a the Royal Court in Liverpool.

So, now, 35 years on, how have things changed?

Well, the first time I reviewed it I recall a stage full of wild St Trinian types and nuns far removed from The Sound Of Music.

This faithful version by the innovative Tricycle Theatre and The Royal Court gives director Kathy Burke a chance to update this piece of nostalgia set in 1957.

If it'sa poisoned chalice then Kathy loves drinking from such a controversial cup and has stamped her own abrasive style on the dialogue and her sense of fun and irreverence shines through to present a laugh-out- oud comedy that, although scaled down to a cast of ten,  provides consistent humour and moments of pure poignancy .

The slick set by Paul Wills is clever: one moment it is a modern day chapel the next It could be anything from a night club to a cloisters garden.

Snatches of 50s music give it a real sense of period in a per 60s north London convent.

Our anti-heroine is Mary Mooney (Molly Logan) one of a trio of girls preparing for their 0-Levels with a backdrop of sex looming in their minds - even for the bright, but innocent Ms Mooney.

She maybe too poor to go on the school trip to Fatima but she is rich in character.

The other Mary's Ms McGinty (Amy Logan) and Ms Gallagher ( Katherine Rose Morely) are sparkling support throughout as are the males - Flash Harry spiv Derek Calum Callaghan) and...forgive me for the comparison…but toff,Cuthbert, a mix of Kenneth Williams’ camp and Terry Thomas lothario.

The nuns are all superior ( see what I did there?) to previous versions I have seen with some wonderfully over-the-top moments from Mother Peter (Cecilia Noble), Mother Basil (Clare Cathcart) and the stern Mother Thomas Aquinas (Kate Lock).

It is a rite of passage comedy using various theatrical devices to maximum effect such as a genuinely heavenly, hilarious Irish dance routine.

While Mother Peter has elements of Whoopi Goldberg's Sister Act; Sean Campion's Father Mullarkey is a raucous nod to the late, great religious satirist Dave Allen and a feckless Father Jack from that other Catholic comedy classic - Father Ted.

Richard Bremner's weary piano teacher, the disillusioned Mr Emmanuelli lamenting his life with comedy and pathos in equal measure.

It is a very tight, if slightly over-long production with some scene changes halting the steady flow but, that said, the strength of this production is the dialogue delivered by the excellent ten-strong cast who clearly relish the opportunity of bringing back to life this infamous look at what many used to (and some still do) regard  as a taboo subject .

It does what it says on the poster, so you know it's not going to be a feature on Songs of Praise.

Apart from a visually blasphemous prop (too rude for a family website) and some explicit cursing, here is a play with heart and, yes, soul.

Globe Verdict: 9/10 Hail Mary's.

Runs until February 8. Box office 0870 787 1866

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