Once A Catholic, theatre review: 'The piece invites broad, breezy laughter'

Tricycle Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

Paul Wills's witty, vibrant design is like a cross between a kitsch Catholic chapel and a garish jukebox and creates just the right atmosphere for this spirited revival by Kathy Burke of Mary J O'Malley's 1977 hit comedy about life in a convent school in Willesden in 1957.

The play itself, though, which follows three girls (all called Mary) through their “O” Level year, has not worn well. 

Molly Logan is excellent as the grave, victimised Mary Mooney who has a natural piety but whose innocent questions are interpreted as knowing insubordination by the grotesquely suspicious nuns. 

The piece invites broad, breezy laughter at the expense of a repressive culture where even wearing tampons is considered self-abuse and where Sean Campion's desk-bashing priest can declare that missing mass is a more heinous sin than wife-murder. 

It's also sharp about the proprietorial attitude of the Irish towards Christianity. “Why didn't Jesus go straight to Dublin?” asks Calum Callaghan's gloriously tacky teddy boy.

The trouble, though, is that the choppy revue-sketch format emphasises how repetitive and protracted the play is and how inadvertently ironic is its dogged refusal to acknowledge any redeeming features in the cartoon villains.

To January 18; 020 7328 1000