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Once A Catholic review/Liverpool Royal Court

Mike Chapple hails three Marys on a guilt trip lined with gilt

Written by . Published on January 24th 2014.

Once A Catholic review/Liverpool Royal Court

Tough call being brought up a Catholic, especially in a hotbed for the faith such as Liverpool. 

You either go with the flow and accept your fate of damnation or redemption - or rail against it. 

Either way, you can never entirely shake off its influence, the truism in the title of Mary O'Malley's Once A Catholic being as relevant today as on its stage debut in the mid 70s. 

This reviewer's personal experience of education at a Catholic primary school in the city is perhaps mirrored best in the perceptive Royal Court programme notes by esteemed comedienne Kathy Burke, the director of this welcome revival of a still biting, sometimes hilarious, work. 

As our Kath relates: "To be constantly told, as it shows in the play, that if you are bad or wicked you will burn in Hell is, in my opinion, not a great way to start out in life." 

Er, quite. 

Sean Campion And Molly Logan In Once A CatholicSean Campion And Molly Logan In Once A Catholic

So what we get in Bates' hands is a gleefully satiric rampage through Catholicism's contradictions and eccentricities set in Our Lady of Fatima's convent school, in the run-up to O' levels, dateline 1957. 

The timeline was a clever ploy by O'Malley. It adds extra relevance to a period when the country's Establishment felt increasingly uncomfortable with the rebellious nature of a nation's youth who had embraced the devil's music, rock n roll, which provides the appropriate soundtrack for the production. 

It's a neatly fitted jigsaw of punchy comedy sketches, populated by extreme characters made believable by a well-chosen, compact cast of 10. 

The pupils are the likeably naive three Marys, of Irish immigrant parents, Mooney McGinty and Gallagher (Molly Logan, Amy Morgan and Katherine Rose Morley). They are a trio trying to make sense of how to make their way in the world when they are matched with three psychotic penguins as tutors. 

Chief among these tough nuns is Mother Peter played by Cecilia Noble. She puts in a towering hellfire and brimstone performance, somewhere between the rolling eyes and big teeth of a female Satchmo, Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act and the black mammy housekeeper of Tom and Jerry. Her one woman re-enactment of the Miracle at Fatima is a comic masterpiece, worthy alone of the admission price. 

She's closely followed by Mother Basil (Clare Cathcart), the nearest (God forbid) to the Reverend Ian Paisley in a habit, and the quietly sinister, thin lipped Herman Himmler nun with round specs - every school has one - Mother Thomas Aquinas (Kate Lock). 

Katherine Rose Morley, Molly Logan And Amy Morgan In Once A CatholicKatherine Rose Morley, Molly Logan And Amy Morgan

This volcanic mix would be incomplete without the influence of the priestly patriarch, Father Mullarkey, a gabbling, buffoonish Sean Campion, whose take on mortal sin is a bit off-kilter to say the least. 

In his world, for a man to miss Sunday Mass is far worse than beating the missus to death. And certainly don't ask him to explain the difference between Limbo and Purgatory. 

With these and an endearingly vague and world-weary music teacher, Mr Emmanuelli (Richard Bremmer), plus two cocky Mary boyfriends Derek and Cuthbert thrown in (Calum Callaghan and Oliver Coopersmith respectively) the two hours fairly zips along Logan's manic Riverdance impersonation scoring particularly big on the Richter Scale of applause. 

The success of many of these moments may be attributed to Burke's skills extreme comedic characterisations in one-on-one situations (Wayne and Waynetta Slob, Kevin and Perry, Gimme, Gimme, Gimme). 

Whatever the reasons, Once A Catholic - despite having what seems a rushed, pinned-on ending - is a hoot whatever your persuasion, be it cattywag or even proddydog. 

But be careful who you take along with you: it still has the capacity to shock.

Which rules out my auntie for a start - she's a nun. 

Score: 7.5 out of 10

Verdict: Three Hail Marys 

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Jackie FitzgeraldJanuary 30th 2014.

On the strength of Mike Chapple's excellent review I've booked 2 tickets to see the Show.

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