There is an art to delivering a perfectly unpolished production in the way a show like Nunsense calls for.
It is after all, delivered in the context of a group of rather hapless Nuns staging a talent show starring the best of their remaining Sisters after an unfortunate poisoning incident wipes out a very large portion of their superfluity. And we all know that talent shows are renowned for their lack of.. err…. talent.
That is by no means to say that the incredible cast in NQOMT’s current production of Nunsense lacks talent – in fact, it’s the very opposite. It requires an extraordinary amount of talent to take a group of five women who share a deep wealth of theatre chops and convincingly turn them into a troupe of highly-ambitious, though under-experienced spotlight-seeking Sisters.
But Director Alan Cooke and his team have successfully done it.
Together, Katherine Shield, Kimberly Fuller, Sally Jupp, Janelle Croft and Meredith Palmer deliver a delightful show as Sisters Mary Regina, Mary Hubert, Robert Anne, Mary Amnesia and Mary Leo.
Like many this year, NQOMT had been ousted from their regular performance space at the Civic Theatre during its renovations, and the decision to stage Nunsense in the company’s own hall proves a stroke of genius. From the very first step into NQOMT’s Hall, audience members are drawn into the world of the Little Sisters of Hoboken as a flock of Nuns flitter about taking tickets, working the bar (there’s a special thrill to be had from buying a beer from a habit-clad barmaid) and ushering the crowd to their seats. The set – the Sisters’ own church hall – subtly wraps around the entire audience and seated in the third back row, we could read the flyers on a nearby bulletin board calling for participation in the Nun’s drama club. Even aspects that would be a drawback in any other show – imperfect lines of sight to the stage and not-quite-right sound mixing – add a sense of authenticity to the Nuns’ modestly staged talent show.
As the talent show progresses the audience gains an insight into each of the Nuns, who seem to sometimes forget they have an audience and let their own interpersonal relationships and ambitions seep into their show – Sister Mary Hubert’s (Kimberly Fuller) thinly veiled rivalry with Reverend Mother Mary Regina (Katherine Shield), Sister Robert Anne’s (Sally Jupp) distaste at being cast as an understudy, Sister Mary Leo’s (Meredith Palmer) struggle to let go of her dream of being a ballerina, and the group’s frustrations with the forgetful Sister Mary Amnesia (Janelle Croft). While each Sister has her own human flaws to deal with, the sensational cast brings each character to life in the most endearing ways and it’s simply impossible to fault any of their performances. I must make special mention of the wonderful vocal performance of all five women, under the Vocal Direction of Meghan Walsh.
Rachel Ahern’s choreography is also a great comedic addition to this show. It would be no easy feat to choreography such lively numbers across a stage that is only steps-wide in any direction, but Rachel and the props duo, Jan Andrews and Bronwyn Creedy, have overcome this hurdle in the most entertaining ways employing everything from pointe shoes (beautifully done, Meredith!) to rubber gloves and the most impressive purple boa I’ve ever witnessed as part of their arsenal.
Lastly, the band is exceptional, although I did find their volume over-powered the vocals at times – an issue that was highlighted during an audience pop-quiz early in Act One.
All-in-all this is a terrific night out and a fun departure from what musical-regulars would expect. We truly did feel like we were taking in a church talent show and the thoughtful additions including plenty of audience interaction, attentive set design and complimentary supper (seriously – don’t miss those scones!) at intermission make Nunsense a stand-out for a long time t o come.