Mixed bag for Kathy Burke's Once a Catholic
''Once A Catholic'', directed by Kathy Burke, opened at the Tricycle Theatre last week. Starring Molly Logan, it is set in a convent girls' school in 1950's London, and runs until 18 January 2014
…but Kathy Burke's revival, while mercilessly heavy on the satire, doesn't really unlock the inherent charm and lightness…There's still a perverse sort of nostalgia to cling on to, which is what makes the play so funny … Sean Campion fulminates a furlong too far as Mullarkey, but at least he has the right sense of smug and hollow piety. Calum Callaghan twists the Teddy boy Derek into an excessive caricature while his sidekick Cuthbert (Oliver Coopersmith) seems to have wandered in from another play, and class system, entirely… there is not enough fat on the writing for Richard Bremmer to sustain the bug-eyed creepiness of his portrayal. The girls, too, seem unnecessarily ancient, ten years too old, at odds with their virginal vulnerability and sweetness in green pleated skirts and white ankle socks.
... This tonally uncertain revival from Kathy Burke makes such plaudits seem perplexing, as we plough doggedly through an academic year at The Convent of Our Lady of Fatima in the company of the fifth form…It feels like a long evening. On Paul Wills's clever frame of a set, which is richly redolent of ecclesiastical architecture, a succession of rather effortfully connected scenes at the start fails to reveal much of a through-line…Logan, Morgan and Morley break through the muddle of mixed-message atmospherics to deliver three perky central performances. Morley's Mary G walks a fine line between in-school swot and free-time rebel and Morgan convincingly illustrates how Mary Mc, despite a liberal attitude to young men, can't ever quite shake off her religion's hellfire pronouncements…
…Paul Wills's witty, neon-lit design resembles both a kitsch Catholic chapel and a gigantic jukebox and the show is punctuated throughout by Fifties rock and roll music suggesting the dangerous and alluring world outside the convent walls… Devout Catholics may well find the show offensive, not so much for its frequent bawdiness, but for the fact that both the nuns and the priest seem actively malign… while also appearing profoundly stupid and entirely lacking in Christian charity. If the play has a fault it is that it often seems to be a series of sketches rather than a satisfying dramatic whole… Once a Catholic is undoubtedly blessed with tremendous comic zest and often made me laugh like a drain…The comedy might seem heartless were it not for the wonderful performance of Molly Logan as Mary Mooney... I heartily recommend this indignant and devilishly funny comedy.
This is a play to bring you to your knees. Not in a good way. …the result is largely an enervating drag…I suppose the Tricycle might reckon on Once a Catholic either amusing or challenging its local London Irish audience, with Mooney's school set in that community. Yet the script seems dated and slow-moving...It's fundamentally a series of sketches, with little bite, peopled by 2-D caricatures. As smug Father Mullarkey, Sean Campion manages to invest his alternating rants and devil-may-care decadence with brio… However, Logan is unengaging, apart from one hilariously jerky fit of Irish dancing… Burke doesn't get top-notch performances from her cast, and they remain in the shallows of light entertainment emotional damage… Nonetheless, you know you're having a dull night when the scene changes are the best bits, their fleeting blasts of rock 'n' roll a blessed relief from the nuns' prolix monologues.
…Lock up your altar boys… director Kathy Burke explains in the programme that she attended a Catholic school where nuns ran a tight ship and taught Latin (alas, they did not teach Miss Burke how to spell)…The first scene drags. Miss Noble's accent veers between Irish and Afro-Caribbean… There are a few moments when this Tricycle/Liverpool Royal Court co-production takes wings. The action lifts every time Sean Campion steps on stage as Father Mullarkey…The three teenage girls, played by Molly Logan, Amy Morgan and Katherine Rose Morley, are well cast…The nuns are less convincing… Calum Callaghan's teddy boy Derek never ceases combing his hair. Give him something else to do with his hands, for Gawd's sake... The direction is blunt, two-dimensional, no more than adequate. Would a play about madrassas not be more topical in 21st-century Kilburn?...