Royal Court review: ‘Once a Catholic’

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The cast of 'Once a Catholic' © Katherine Morley/Twitter

The cast of ‘Once a Catholic’ © Tricycle Theatre

Who knew nuns could be so vicious and cruel?

Mary O’Malley’s ‘Once A Catholic’ provides ample evidence of that after opening at the Royal Court in Liverpool this week.

The show, performed by London’s Tricycle Theatre company, is directed by all-round British comedy legend, Kathy Burke, who is famous to millions for her appearances in Harry Enfield’s TV programmes and spin-offs, along with other television hits.

She has become established as an accomplished theatrical director over the past 10 years, having directed ‘The Quare Fellow’ at the Liverpool Playhouse back in 2004.

Fans of Burke may be left disappointed that this production does not – aside from the occasional max-strength swearing – owe much to the coarse comedic characters she became so well known for, yet that does not detract from the play’s merits.

The plot concerns the lives of three Roman Catholic convent schoolgirls named Mary, as they fall prey to teenage angst while studying in their final year at Our Lady of Fatima in north London. This play was was originally performed in London’s West End in 1977, although the story itself is set in 1957. Perhaps some of the dialogue worked better in a different era.

While the narrative follows the trials, tribulations and confessions of the girls studying under the merciless scrutiny of the wickedly devout nun teachers, it is a man, Sean Campion, who offers the stand-out performance as the easily shocked (and sometimes drunk) Irish priest, Father Mullarkey. Either he has the greatest lines or it’s simply the way he delivers them.

'Once a Catholic', written by Mary O'Malley and directed by Kathy Burke

‘Once a Catholic’, written by Mary O’Malley and directed by Kathy Burke

Of the three principal parts, Molly Logan (as Mary Mooney) just about eclipses her classmates, actresses Amy Morgan (Mary McGinty) and Scouser Katherine Rose Morley (Mary Gallagher), as they all give convincing depictions of girls caught firmly in the grip of catholic guilt and the growing temptation to commit carnal sins.

Does it help your appreciation of the jokes if you grew up practising the catholic faith at school? Well, yes, it definitely does… though it doesn’t exclude those of other religious persuasions from joining in the fun.

The couple in the seats next to me found just about everything absolutely hilarious – including the semi-serious bits, strangely.

With that in mind, it’s safe to state that they seemed to enjoy the play more than I did, but that isn’t to say the show doesn’t have its moments of genuine, laugh-out-loud comedy because it is very funny in parts.

Once a Catholic runs at the Royal Court Theatre until February 8th.

About John Mathews, Editorial Director