The Theatreguide.London Review
Tricycle Theatre Winter 2013-2014
It's easy to spot the former Catholic school girls in the Tricycle Theatre audience – they're the ones laughing joyously or ruefully at absolutely everything that happens in Once A Catholic.
Mary J. O'Malley's 1977 comedy-drama exists to lay before us all the innocent absurdity and more serious horrors of life in a Catholic school in 1957, and judging from the audience response, things did not change unrecognisably for decades after.
And so we see religion taught by mindless rote and science lessons sidestepping anything remotely to do with sex. Sexual information, generally incorrect, is shared by the more knowing girls to the horror of the less informed.
A visiting priest lectures that kissing a boy on the lips is a mortal sin, topped only by the ultimate self-damnation of missing mass. The girls are dreadfully innocent, even when they're trying to be naughty, and the nuns range from dotty to sadistic.
Of course much of this is the stuff of common folklore, not to mention TV sketch comedy and stand-up routines, so those who don't have personal memories jogged may find it all old news and the jokes a bit weak and strained. (The best gag comes at the very beginning, as a nun takes attendance in class, and every girl is named Mary. It really does go slowly downhill from there.)
The play focusses on three of the Marys – the pretty one, already on the conventional road toward marriage and motherhood; the swot, who is secretly the most debauched; and the hapless dullard, who is always the one getting caught in minor infractions, but who ironically has the most potential, which the school will beat out of her.
What serious content the play has lies in our sympathy for that last girl, but actress Molly Logan has been directed by Kathy Burke to make her so very much of a lumpen nonentity that it is difficult for us to find anything interesting enough in her to hold our attention.
Elsewhere, Burke's direction lacks much comic snap, energy or forward motion, one scene just tramping along after another with little sense of order, almost like unconnected revue sketches.
Once A Catholic wants to be either funnier or more angry, and this production, wavering uncertainly between the two, leaves too little impression except for those Old Girls who fill in its gaps with memories and passions of their own.
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Review - Once A Catholic - Tricycle Theatre 2013