Robert Luxford’s Nuns takes a less than ecclesiastical look at life inside the convent, or rather an alternative view of the daily lives of three Sisters and their Mother Superior, because for the sake of the Church we have to believe this is pure fiction. A satirical comedy in fact, presented by She’s Diverse and Dutch Dame productions, and directed by Charlotte Everest, which the all-female creative team have called a passion project.
The premise is that things have loosened up a bit for nuns, having been awarded more freedoms, a blind eye is turned to things like alcohol and sex, as long as everyone is discreet about it. Smoking, however remains taboo given the political links between Church, State and global corporations. But there’s a revolution on the horizon, led by Sister Catherine (Natalya Wolter-Ferguson) and Sister Rozza (Rebecca Wilson) who have discovered the power of leverage. The existence of a sex tape featuring Mother Superior (Gillian Broderick) initially gives them the upper hand in what becomes a complex power struggle.
The deviant sisters entangle Sister Bernadette, or ‘Bambi’ in to their increasingly outlandish plots, and it’s Cecile Sinclair in this role who grabs the audiences’ attention with excellent comic timing. There’s some interesting commentary on the politics of religion, and the misogyny of the Church, but the comedy plays on the obvious laughs that can be garnered when a nun in full habit lights up a cigarette, flashes a bit of skin or talks about sex.
But while you could overlook the predictability of the gags, there are some problems with the staging, and the pacing in particular. In a scene, which should have been one of the funniest, the nuns are having an alcohol and drug fuelled party, the story of the night is told in a series of flash frames, except each one lingers on far too long making it look a bit awkward. And it’s an issue throughout, particularly between scenes where the characters depart and re-enter whether they need to or not.
Tara Usher’s set design looks nice, the idea that holy life is a little more relaxed is brought to life in the furnishings of the convent dormitory while neon lights highlight specific areas. There’s an over reliance on music to supplement the comedy, blasts of ‘The Sound of Music’ and Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’ kind of make sense, but start and end abruptly, jarring with the more slowly paced production.
It is evident that the creative team have worked hard to bring this production to life, and the fact that they have self-funded demonstrates a sense of determination that definitely comes across to the audience. This production of Nuns has a great deal of potential lurking just below the surface, but you wouldn’t need to visit the confessional to admit that it still needs a bit of work before it can be considered sacrosanct.