Once A Catholic

Published November 28, 2013

Mary J O’Malley’s raucous comedy brings 1950s Willesden to the Kilburn High Road this Christmas, boasting characters with more comic presence than Father Christmas’ own personal joke shop.

Taking place within the simple surround of Paul Wills’ ecclesiastical set, the action centres on the staff and students at Our Lady of Fatima, a girls’ convent school where murder is deemed more acceptable than missing Mass.

Leading the cast is Cecelia Noble, last seen praising the Lord while splitting audience members’ sides in James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner at the National Theatre, who is back to bring more godly worship and gut-busting laughter to theatregoers at the Tricycle.

This time the actress turns her talents to the portrayal of a nun, a character we are confronted with from the very beginning of O’Malley’s comic piece that examines the lives of three girls from class 5A as they face their final term under the watchful eye of their fervent Catholic teachers. A stern figure with little in the way of time, patience or Christian kindness for her pupils, Noble’s Mother Peter fuses blustering rage and impeccable comic timing to create an eccentric and witty character who once again threatens to steal the show.

That would be the case, of course, if she didn’t have the comic ingenuity of her co-stars to contend with. Clare Cathcart gives an equally robust performance as Mother Basil, who admirably manages to reel off an impossibly swift succession of prayers in the midst of an in-depth investigation of a rabbit’s nether regions.

Of the younger members of the cast it is Molly Logan and Calum Callaghan who are the most memorable. Logan, as one of the multitude of Marys attending the Catholic school, looks like a young Kathy Burke – who directs the production – in her role as the naïve school girl whose lack of knowledge when it comes to the birds and the bees presents itself in the eyes of the nuns as intentional disobedience that must be disciplined, while Callaghan couldn’t be slimier as local sleazeball Derek who is as persistent in his hair combing as he is with bedding girls.

While, thanks to the regular scene changes, Burke’s production often feels like a series of witty snapshots about life in a convent school rather than one linear narrative, this doesn’t distract too much from the amusing spectacle that Burke produces.

It may not be your typical festive fare this Christmas, as mocking as it is towards the religion many around the world are set to celebrate this season, but it certainly provides an evening of undeniably good entertainment that is sure to have audiences sniggering, snorting and spurting their mulled wine with laughter.

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