Don’t let the sweetness of their voices fool you, the sextet of Catholic schoolgirls here are as fearsome as any characters you’ll find elsewhere on the Fringe. Travelling down to Edinburgh from their home in Oban to attend a choral contest on behalf of their school Our Lady of Perpetual Succour (they call it “the Virgin Megastore”), their long-awaited mission in the capital involves getting drunk, visiting Schuh and hopefully getting off with some guy or other.
Marking the return of the Royal Court’s artistic director Vicky Featherstone to the National Theatre of Scotland alongside Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall, this is an adaptation of Alan Warner’s 1998 novel The Sopranos, its slightly cumbersome retitling presumably to ward off the obvious confusion with gangsters from New Jersey. As that team suggests, it’s at once a clever, nuanced play and a great fun night out for all the family. Or those who can handle copious amounts of swearing, anyway.
The girls swear – god, do they swear – and discuss bodily functions while they knock back period drinks which will encourage a wince in a certain generation, like flaming sambucas and bottles of Hooch; it’s pleasing to note that a prop supplier in Scotland can still rustle up half a dozen bottles of the latter. The scrapes they get into are fittingly ridiculous, like going back to a flat with a man who handstand naked towards them and his freshly-divorced mate, who sadly shows them videos of his ex-wife.
Amidst it all Once arranger Martin Lowe’s musical choices are sublime, amplifying a heart that’s already there in abundance in the material. The bright opening of Mendelssohn’s ‘Lift Thine Eyes’ is played straight, a striking demonstration of how well-chosen and complementary these six singing voices are, while later on the music of Jeff Lynne’s ELO winds its way through the soul of the piece in the same way it did Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights the year before The Sopranos was released. Backed by an all-female trio, the ensemble version of ‘Shine a Little Love’ in a deserted nightclub is an air-punching moment.
Coarse, honest, and steeped in the primary colour emotions of the late teenage years, this play is important precisely because it’s all of these things, and because none of these young women need to explain or apologise for their gender, their sexuality, their class or their accent. It deserves to play to halls packed with families and hen nights for years to come.
Until 30 August. Following the Edinburgh run, the production tours Scotland and goes to Live Theatre, Newcastle. Further information at www.nationaltheatrescotland.comReuse content