As a product of 1970s Catholic education, I’ve always been a little bit scared of nuns. And, like many people, I imagine, I have an illogical phobia of Whoopi Goldberg.
So, it was with no small measure of trepidation that I walked through the Town Hall door for the Hawick Amateur Operatic Society’s production of Sister Act.
But I needn’t have worried.
It’s a belter of a show, which crackles with electricity, tests boundaries and brings the best out of the talented cast.
The plot sees Deloris Van Cartier take refuge in a convent after she witnesses her gangster boyfriend Curtis Jackson commit murder.
During her time there, she knocks the church’s somewhat dire choir of nuns into shape and makes a few friends ... as well as a new enemy in the Mother Superior.
She certainly invokes the spirit of Whoopi when conducting the choir with a shimmy-shake that would put Miley Cyrus to shame
But the choir’s new-found success brings with it danger, as Curtis finds out where she is.
Ashley Wolf, who plays the sassy failed singer Deloris, is something of an enigma.
She has the most difficult role to play, yet her sheer exuberance and energy fairly wheels the plot along at a hundred-mile-an-hour pace, while never dropping a line.
She certainly invokes the spirit of Whoopi when conducting the choir with a shimmy-shake that would put Miley Cyrus to shame.
The intensity of her brassiness is dropped in the second half when a more empathetic and, it has to be said, likable Deloris comes to light.
And Marie McSherry, who plays Deloris’ polar opposite, the Mother Superior, is a real find.
Her portrayal of the character played by Dame Maggie Smith in the 1992 film from which this new musical was spawned was nothing short of perfection. From ‘Here Within These Walls’ to the hilarious ‘I Haven’t Got A Prayer’, each note was clear as crystal and her delivery was simply superb.
Acting certainly never takes a back seat.
The performance of what I shall hesitantly call The Holy Trinity (Sisters Mary Robert, Mary Patrick and Mary Lazarus – Natalie Paterson, Amanda Blacklock and Pam Milan) was so close to the characters in the film, you almost had to blink to remember where you were.
Paterson was sweeter than Haribo in her role of the postulant nun with the surprising singing voice, which Deloris helps bring to the fore – well worthy of her solo in ‘The Life I Never Led’.
And Blacklock played her role with just the right amounts of infectious enthusiasm and annoying happiness, while Milan has the curmudgeonly voice of Mary Lazarus off to a T.
But in a play about singing nuns, it’s probably something of a surprise to find the best musical performance comes from one of the male cast.
David Paterson, who plays Curtis Jackson, is immense. His dark, brooding prescence is echoed by a crystal-clear voice, delivering the lines of ‘When I Find My Baby’ with lustrous candour, so that the hairs stick out on your neck and you really believe him when he sings: “I’m gonna drown that girl! Or disembowel that girl! Or give her skull a big dent with a blunt instrument!”
Of course, every bad guy needs his comedy foil. And Paterson’s comes along in the guise of what I have no hesitation in calling The Unholy Trinity (Joey, T.J. and Pablo – Craig McCredie, Richard Milan and Merjin Schepens).
Their chemistry had something about the Three Stooges about it and they delivered the funniest song of the night, ‘Lady In The Long Black Dress’, in which they brag about how they are going to woo the nuns.
“Why not lose that veil and wimple, baby! Have some sacramental wine! Sister, you know I gotta ... so let me worship at your shrine. And if you got stigmata … show me yours, I’ll show you mine!”
Picking up the role of the sentimental good guy Lt Eddie Souther is Stuart Mitchell.
His comic timing is excellent and his wide-eyed innocence and disparaged love for Deloris pours like a tap in ‘I Could Be That Guy’, reminiscent of John Travolta singing ‘Sandy’ in Grease.
When in ensemble, the nuns really come to life, in the songs ‘Take Me To Heaven’ and ‘Raise Your Voice’.
I do have one gripe, however. The phraseology of the period can fly close to the bone of acceptability today.
Deloris’ line “You mean I’m goin’ incog-negro?” was met with an embarrassed silence and could easily be written out.
But it serves to prove what a bold move it is by the society to present this tricky show.
It’s about as tough as it gets musically, it has the ability to shock and to entertain in equal measure, and Hawick Amateur Operatic Society gets the balance just about right.
The set changes are all but seamless, the backdrops superb and the orchestra, in the hands of musical director Derek Calder, provides a fantastic addition to mood, as well as brilliantly accompanying the cast.
And the nuns? It turns out they’re not all bad ... in fact, they’re rather good fun.