Sunday, 19 January 2014

Theatre Review - Once a Catholic - Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn

Due to work commitments, I have been very behind on the blogging of late. The Saturday before last I went to see "Once a Catholic" at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. This was an interesting experience for me, as it became the first production I've ever seen twice. I saw the play in its original form in the West End back in the 1970's. The play is set in Willesden in the 1950's at a Catholic Convent Girls School. Kathy Burke is the director of the reprised version and as you would expect, it was gritty and funny.

As someone of Irish ancestory who went to Catholic Schools (St Vincents and Finchley Catholic High School) at a time when the North London Catholic population was predominantly Irish, the production was at times a bit uncomfortable and close to the bone. I got the feeling that there were two distinct groups of people at the theatre. Those with my sort of background and those who had a different experience. It seemed to me that the non Irish/Catholics laughed at different times. I suspect they found the portrayal of nuns and priests hilarious and probably thought it stylised and humourous. In my experience, it was actually pretty accurate. As that was like some of my own school experiences, it wasn't really that funny at all. We had it drummed into us that missing mass was a Cardinal sin. I can't remember if any Nun/Priest ever actually said it was worse than "murdering your wife", but the reason I can't remember is because we were told so many things of that ilk. We were told about babies dying without baptism and going to Limbo. We were told not to let ourselves be alone with girls, because "bad things can happen".

One big difference from the new production and the old one, is that in the old version, the dynamic between the girls was different. It was the Sassy Troublemaker who decided she wanted to be a nun, to the astonishment of her classmates. In the new version, she is portrayed as a bit dim and a bit unworldly. Maybe Kathy Burke felt that in todays climate that would simply not be credible.

One thing that also struck me is the fact that women don't seem t become nuns anymore. In Mill Hill we have the Daughters of Charity, but the ones I've seen are all relatively elderly. In the 1970's women were expected to accept the fact that if they wanted a religious life, they'd become nuns. I expect that in todays world, accepting what is to many a "lower" form of religious order is not acceptable and is offputting.

When I first saw the play, I'd turned my back on the Church and was quite happy to see it lampooned mercilessly. I can remember taking delight in laughing at my own cultural roots. Second time around, I find it a completely different experience. I think Kathy Burke has done a great job. The play is funny and such things are necessary. I think we'll only truly be able to understand Islam, when Muslims can produce such plays without running the risk of Fatwa. What some see as blasphemy is actually a way of saying "we are comfortable with our religion". Ultimately the reason that the Church in the 1950's was so prone to being lampooned was because it had many things wrong. Only by exposing such things to debate, can we move on. If you are a North London Catholic and raised in the Catholic education system before the 1980's you will find the play a guilty pleasure. If you are not (like my wife), you'll just find it funny. If you find yourself laughing at different times to half the audience, that is probably down to this divide.

I would heartily recommend the play. I would also recommend the Tricycle theatre as a venue. From Mill Hill it is convenient and a comfortable and relaxed venue.

1 comment:

Mrs Angry said...

I saw this play when it was first produced too: as you say, very funny to anyone with our sort of background - in fact, just very funny.

When I was at St Michael's Mother Mary Fidelis used to terrify us- as babysitters and future mothers - all about limbo, where innocent unbaptised babies were sent for eternity. And then a few years later the Pope went and abolished it, or said it didn't exist. I felt quite annoyed at the selective re-writing of the Catholic rulebook ...