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Review: We'll Have Nun of It (The Other Palace Studio)


⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


Following the death of her mother, Bernie (Heather Gourdie) has been sent to St Anne’s Convent School in London by her father who has seemingly chosen to erase her from his new life. There, she promptly meets and befriends the three girls in her dorm room: Mary (Juliette Artigala), Eliza (Angel Lema), and Caragh (Michaela Murphy) thus beginning the complicated journey of the four friends navigating their final year at school together. 


And it’s this complexity of the story that does let the show down slightly. Caragh, Bernie, Mary, and Eliza each have a story to tell - they each have their own journey to go on through the school year. But with a run time of just 90 minutes, I was left feeling that these stories were cut short, rushed, and underdeveloped. Each of their individual stories was worthy of being told, with their journeys encompassing complicated themes of sexual assault, sexuality, grief, faith, and emigration but unfortunately, within the limited run time, something felt missing. 



This is a real shame because when the attention was turned to these issues through the lens of the girls’ experience, it was done relatively well. It is a testament to the writing that I was engaged and sympathised with each of these characters - to the point that I laughed and cried alongside them - but I was still left wanting more. At its core, the storytelling is there to warrant a longer show and I would happily have sat through a longer, two-act performance if it meant that these stories were done justice. 


Evidence of the quality of storytelling is best evidenced through the development of the romance between Eliza and Mary. The complexity of navigating this evolving friendship whilst battling with the issue of faith and familial pressures was left to unfold alongside the other events of the play with a delicate and tender subtly that slowly blossomed without feeling forced. Although impossible in just 90 minutes, if the other stories within the show were given similar treatment and attention then the impact would be greater and the ending more satisfying and complete. 



If I were to rate this show on performances alone, this would be a very easy 5* review. It is not every show where the cast is so equally matched but Michaela Murphy (Caragh), Heather Gourdie (Bernie), Juliette Artigala (Mary), and Angel Lema (Eliza) all delivered exceptional performances as the main cast, accompanied by Sorrel Jordan successfully playing a variety of roles from Caragh’s brother to Sarah the perfect prefect. They were indistinguishable in their incredible talents as performers, as well as musicians and it was truly a joy to watch them each shine in their spotlight moments. And I mean this quite literally, with Oliver McNally’s lighting design centering around this use of a bright spotlight in more poignant moments against a more general use of softer pastel colours. 


Special mention has to be given to the ease at which they all flitted between a variety of musical instruments. There was rarely a time when an instrument wasn’t being played on stage, and the musical talent they all possessed never failed to impress me. Similarly impressive were their voices. Individually, each of their voices was beautiful but when brought together in harmony they were nothing short of spectacular. And here, credit must undoubtedly be given to Finola Southgate’s masterful songwriting. The eclectic blend of hymns with a more folk-rock sound was unique and at times, almost hypnotic. I was very happy to learn that a selection of songs from the show can be found on Spotify because I was not ready to let them go. 


Speaking of spectacular, though, I was blown away by the consistently high energy that the cast all delivered, particularly as it was an intimate crowd at The Other Palace Studio. It was an energy and pace that would have felt appropriate at a venue 3 times the size but which was particularly engaging on this smaller scale.  



The small stage of The Other Palace did suit the tone of the show. Sisterhood is at the heart of this show (in more ways than one) which celebrates female friendships. As the story unfolds through what is essentially a series of intimate conversations with friends, being so close to the action helps to bring you into this intimacy as if you were another friend in the group - another sister.


It’s a shame, then, when the use of musical instruments in place of simple props detracted from these intimate moments. In moments where a bible, a letter, or a magazine were required in a scene, a violin or guitar was used instead. This only served to detract from the realism of the scene, slightly removing me from the emotion as I was left dwelling on what an unnecessary gimmick this was - especially when in certain cases, a piece of paper was all that was needed. 


It also felt like a missed opportunity to help ground the play in the year it was set - 1967. Much of the time-setting comes through brief mentions of historical moments such as the new contraceptive pill becoming available and this perhaps relies a little too heavily on the audience knowing their history - in particular their feminist history. A more traditional use of props could, therefore, help to showcase the setting of the show in a more obvious and accessible way. 



We’ll Have Nun of It has developed from a half-hour song cycle developed by Finola Southgate and Rosie Dart in 2019 to a stunningly warm, moving show that celebrates teenage female friendships in a way that made me fondly remember my own. Although that fondness was slightly spoiled by the realisation that for me, 17 was almost ten years ago (and I am clinging onto that almost) but I can’t really blame the show for that! 


I certainly hope we haven’t seen the end of this show following its run at The Other Palace Studio. Should it continue to develop, then I will be certain to make a habit (get it? I couldn’t write this whole review without slipping that in somewhere) of following its progress and championing it as a show not to be missed.


We'll Have Nun of It plays at The Other Palace Studio until March 10th


For tickets and information visit https://theotherpalace.co.uk/well-have-nun-of-it/


Photos by Pamela Raith

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