Two weeks ago I was invited to see Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour. Not only did I get to see the show, but I was invited backstage to interview the cast afterwards. I love knowing the processes behind theatre performances, so I jumped at the chance. This was the first interview I’ve ever conducted, so I was very nervous but the company were lovely and put me right at ease. Hopefully you gain as much from this interview as I did from leading it!
There are six cast members in the West End production of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour who were all invited to be interviewed. In my original post about the show I didn’t speak too much about the characters as I thought it would be more useful for the information to be in this post. Caroline Deyga plays Chell, Karen Fishwick plays Kay, Isis Hainsworth plays Orla, Frances Mayli McCann plays Kylah, Kirsty MacLaren plays Manda, and Dawn Sievewright play Fionnula. All cast members, other than Isis have been playing these roles since the play’s conception, with all of the cast having varying experience in the world of theatre. Whether a complete novice to professional theatre, or a seasoned actress, they were all fantastic to speak to and I’m so excited to share what they had to say with you.
For people like me, going into this show without knowing much about it, in a few words how would you summarise Our Ladies of Perpetual Succourwithout giving too much away?
Frances: Six Catholic schoolgirls from Oban in Scotland travel to Edinburgh for the day for a choir competition, but the competition is the last thing on their minds. It’s about growing up and finding yourself, and the journey that everyone goes through in life.
Who would you suggest doesn’t come to see this play?
Dawn: No-one. I think this is for everyone. We’ve performed all over the world and we’ve had 7 year olds in the audience, which some people might find that the swearing is a bit much for them but they seemed to enjoy it. And we’ve had 75 year olds. I think it’s exactly what [Frances] said about it being everyone going through growing up. Everyone knows what it’s like to go through your teenage years so it’s not a difficult watch. Everyone has friends, everyone has been to school and everyone is trying to find out who they are. It’s the most universal story that could ever be told, except its Scottish.
What initially drew you to the show?
Caroline: It’s unlike anything that I’ve ever read or seen or been in ever before. So when I first read the script I knew that it was going to be something really special and there was a massive draw to be involved in something like that. Because we created it with the team, Lee [Hall] was very generous with it. He took on a lot of what we suggested and listened in when we were having conversations at break. We’d go back and all of a sudden the things we joked about were in the script. It has been as special, and even more special, that I probably ever imagined when I first read it which was incredible as I really had high hopes for it, which have been far exceeded.
Dawn: It’s amazing to be part of a show that is all female. It’s not done a lot at the moment and it’s a show that’s written about girls of that age in a really, really truthful light because we’re not step-digging in pretty little dresses talking about what it’s like to be a woman. We’re doing it honestly, and there’s not a lot of honest theatre out that. There’s a lot of great theatre out there, but this particular thing is an experience. You won’t ever have seen anything like it. It is a singular, one-off ‘thing’ that we have made that can never be replicated anywhere else.
Caroline: It’s like marmite for theatre in a way because there are people that walk out, and their experience from the show is equally as important as the ones that stay right until the end and give us a standing ovation. I would much rather be involved in a piece of theatre that made somebody feel so strongly like that than be in something that they’ve seen 40 times that they really enjoy, but there’s no shock for them in any way about what they’re receiving. I would much, much rather that they leave the theatre going ‘I just couldn’t’ or ‘Oh my god that was a whirlwind’. Everyone will leave the theatre feeling a completely different thing about this show.
What was the best thing about bringing Our Ladies to the West End?
Karen: For me, I think it was being part of something that is such a huge ‘risk’. We’ve been doing the show for a couple of years so just knowing that it wasn’t going to fit in with everything else that was on offer and being so ready to shake things up. It’s not a commercial piece of theatre. A lot of people come to the theatre to see giant pieces of moving set and bright flashing lights, but we don’t have any of that. We have an awesome, but static and quite simple stage, but it’s the story telling that we’re bringing that’s the basis of all theatre. It’s exciting to come in and say ‘we’re just this but we’re going to kick arse’. It’s exciting to be part of this insane buzz. I just never thought that it’s something I would do.
Isis, were you aware of the show before you joined the company?
Isis: I’m from Edinburgh and it was on at the Fringe, and everyone I knew was saying how amazing it was. They were saying ‘you need to go and see it, you need to see it’ and it was sold out and everyone was really pissed off at me and they were saying it fucking brilliant, it’s the best thing they’d ever seen. I got told they were auditioning for it, so I was really excited and wanted an audition. I ended up getting one and I told like, two people and they said how cool it was and that it was one of the best show they’d ever seen which freaked me out a lot as I hadn’t seen it and had no idea what to expect. I read the stuff I had to do for the audition which was the Orla monologue and I just thought it was brilliant. I knew I’d love to do it if I got the chance.
That’s a really powerful monologue; it’s almost haunting to watch.
Isis: That’s the goal, I guess. To find the balance between the humour and then the ‘oh fuck, that’s actually a really terrible thing that happened’ but I’m glad that that’s the way you feel.
Dawn: It’s a true story.
Kirsty: It’s the one part of the original book that genuinely happened, and the writer [Alan Warner] had to ask the person it’s written about if they could use it because it’s such a truthful monologue, and such a truthful part.
Which other character would you play in Our Ladies if you weren’t playing your role?
Caroline: That’s a really good question, and no-one has asked us that before.
Dawn: I don’t think I could physically play another character.
Karen: As Kay I’ve really liked playing all the other little tiny parts I play, but then I guess everyone does that as well. There’s a lot of men with telephones in there that I really enjoy doing.
Frances: I don’t know, it’s weird. When we auditioned for it, in the very first audition Vicky [Featherstone] asked us which character in the play we related to the most, and every character we said is the character we’re playing because that’s exactly who she saw as well. I don’t know who I’ve play, because I love to play Kylah and being in a rock band and sing.
Dawn: There’s so many things that you look at, and bits that you watch that you think looks so much fun, but because it’s so specific to what we create in the room, it wouldn’t be what they do that you’d do because they’re so specific.
Caroline: Still two and a half years in, I watch these guys so their scenes every night and I’m still blown away by what they do as their characters. As much as it would be fun to do it, I don’t think I’d be able to do what they do justice. I’d be like ‘I’m not doing it like [Frances]’ just because I can’t imagine it any other way.
Kirsty: I’d feel a bit of a traitor to my own character. It’d be like ‘Manda, I still love you, honestly’
Dawn: We’re all on stay for an hour and 45 minutes together. It’d be different if people were on and off, or there were more scenes, but we all have an equal amount to do in the show. We’ve all got our finger in the pie. It’s literally like we’d just be changing and doing the same amount of work but in a different costume.
In this production, or any other show you’ve been in have there been any memorable mishaps?
Frances: I did Priscilla [Queen of the Desert] and I was a swing, and was on for one of the Divas. You’re at the top of the Palace Theatre and you’re up in the top of the rafters and have to traverse along before coming down. There are flats and loads of things that come down in between you, so when you’re at the top you’ve got to stay really, really still. If you move you’ll get caught in something and it’s just horrific. Well, I did get caught. I was at the top, I don’t know how many feet high, turning when I’m supposed to be flat. There was a really quiet scene going down below me so I couldn’t say anything, and just turned. They had to bring me back in and turn all the way back round, and then sing I Will Survive.
Dawn: When we first opened this, we’d been through a very intense rehearsal process finding the story. We got there and our sound desk collapsed so we did a show with no sound, just acoustic. Just acoustic guitar, piano and a box, that’s it.
Caroline They came and said to us ‘the sound has gone down, what do you want to do?’ so we were like ‘fuck it, we’ll do it’.
Dawn: It was very strange, but we did it and we got [the best ensemble] award for it. But we have things that go wrong all the time.
Caroline: It’s the easiest show to get away with it, because we’ve created it we can do what we like, and we can laugh about whatever we like. There’s been plenty of things happen.
Dawn: When I was in Belfast, I came in too early in the old man’s pub.
Kirsty: It was the funniest thing ever, and I had to carry on with my monologue and I was just laughing.
Caroline: One the other night was one of my favourites. Dawn couldn’t think of the word ‘good’ when she’s supposed to say ‘don’t worry about us mister, we’re good Catholic schoolgirls’. But instead she went ‘don’t worry about us mister, we’re big Catholic schoolgirls’, and then she finished it and sniggered which then rippled along the whole line as all of us tried not to laugh.
Karen: I was playing the old man at the end at the station and I meant to say ‘I’ll get you some beers in wee coke cups’ but I said ‘beers and wee cupcakes’ so everyone was like what?
Dawn: It keeps it alive. Doing this 7 times a week is a tough thing!
In any show, what would be your dream role?
Frances: I don’t know. I did have dream roles but things come along and it’s so exciting to do a new piece of theatre.
Karen: You don’t even know it exists yet, then it pops up and you think ‘that is my dream role’. Maybe for a few years mine was Miss Hannigan [from Annie] but that’s changed now. I’ve got other dreams.
Dawn: I’d quite like to do a Shakespeare; I’ve never done a professional Shakespeare. I’d quite like to play a chavy Ophelia. But it’s a true, when you’ve got the gift of creating something yourself it’s quite difficult to beat that. Also, for me because we created it and it’s so part of us, I don’t think I’ll ever find a part that’s so close to Fionnula. How to get something closer than what we’ve done?
Kirsty: It’s an amazing feeling to totally be able to embody a character. Obviously as an actor you do embody your characters, but in this sense it’s so much of you. It gives you such a license to play with it. You obviously can do different productions of different shows and that’s great, and you get the chance to play with that but there’s nothing quite so liberating as an actor to have free reign. And it’s so unusual to actually be able to have your own complete view of what that character is.
Caroline: I’d quite like to be one of the angels in Kinky Boots but that’s one of the parts I’ve accepted that’ll never happen. But if we’re talking about dream roles that’d be one.
Okay, the last question is what do you do between the matinee and evening performance on a two show day?
Karen: Sleep and eat
Kirsty: Watch Wimbledon (side note: it was the middle weekend of Wimbledon when I saw the show)
Frances: Steam my voice and watch Netflix.
Dawn: I’m trying to learn how to play guitar so I’m doing a little of that at the moment.
Frances: See pals if I’ve got the energy.
Dawn: Just get up to general mischief. Up and down stairs.
Caroine: We visit each others’ dressing rooms every now and again.
Dawn: Because it’s an hour and 45 minutes, you come off and breathe and you just start to wind down then you’ve got to do another one. When I did Legally [Blonde] I literally was running about like a pratt in between and be like ‘should we go to Wagamamas?’ because I had time to sit on my arse and do nothing.
Kirsty: I need to regain myself
Caroine: I’m still trying to find the balance between completely chilling out and doing stuff. If I do what I normally do which is get my fairy lights and my Himalayan salt lamp on, then I’m too chilled. But if I strut about the streets for the two hours that we’ve got I’m like ‘Noooo, not today’.
Karen: I’ve felt that feeling like ‘no, I can’t do it’
Dawn: I’ve got at least another twelve shows in me
And then that’s where I left them to chill, but not be too chilled to not manage the evening performance. Thanks so much to the cast of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour for having me, and if you’ve not seen the show yet and want to, you’ve got another 6 weeks until they close. So you’ve got to be quick!