Edinburgh Festival Fringe musicals and opera reviews: We’ll Have Nun Of It | Gone to the Dogs | God Catcher

A trio of four-star musicals and opera reviews includes an energetic and inventive coming-of-age tale set in a 1960s convent, a ramshackle cabaret for Britannia in decline, and a fresh take on a Greek myth

We’ll Have Nun Of It ****

Underbelly, Cowgate (Venue 61), until 27 August

The year is 1967, but in St Anne’s Convent School a girl who wants to sit on a boy’s knee is advised take a good, thick newspaper - ideally the Catholic Herald. It might seem like an unusual setting for a musical, particularly one which uses musical styles not invented in 1967, but there is so much talent and exuberance packed into this 60 minutes that one will make a good number of allowances.

A Charlie Hartill Award finalist in 2020, We’ll Have Nun Of It, by Rosie Dart (writer/director/producer) and Finola Southgate (writer/composer), follows a group of five senior pupils navigating the challenges of life, love, faith, family and generally growing up.

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Bernie (Heather Gourdie) checks the mail every day for a letter from her father; Caragh (Michaela Murphy) goes out to dance halls with her aunt; Eliza (Angel Lema) has read a feminist magazine and wants to explore the world, while Mary (Juliette Artigala) is considering the religious life.

All the cast play instruments, most play several and move freely between them. The fifth member of the cast is Chaya Gupta, who is tied to the drums most of the time but still manages to play a range of parts. The music embraces folk, choral, pop and soul and they are accomplished at all of it.

The relentless pace means there is little room between the songs, but the musical numbers and rich and expansive. While work could be done to develop the story, and it wouldn’t hurt to slow everything down and make the diction a bit clearer, there is so much energy and inventiveness here it is a joy to witness. Susan Mansfield

We'll Have Nun Of It.We'll Have Nun Of It.
We'll Have Nun Of It.

Gone to the Dogs ****

Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14) until 28 August

Britannia is way beyond her best. She’s a knackered, dishevelled, cynical wreck, ironically half-listening to feel-good state-approved radio to remind herself of the good old days, and counteracting the officially sanctioned soporific tunes with savage, wistful ditties of her own. Wasn’t there a time when things were just – well, better? Not empire/world-war-winning/Vera Lynn/Winston Churchill better, but just – nicer? Kinder?

This solo show from TSarzi (aka Sheffield-based musician and writer Sarah Sharp) is a ramshackle, half-arsed cabaret for a nation in rapid decline, and it definitely won’t be for everyone. Just to be clear, it definitely won’t be for everyone. But beneath the heartbreaking piano ballads bidding farewell to former friends across the sea, and the obsessive looped creations imagining an ever-hungry Cenotaph munching up the endless war dead, there’s righteous fury and immense sadness too.

TSarzi’s delivery is intentionally (and fittingly) lacklustre and jaded, but her writing skills are razor-sharp, with a nicely rounded contralto for her folk-like songs and some nimble keyboard and violin skills too. Crackling radio interruptions – a sinister, manipulated Shipping Forecast among them – serve to intersperse TSarzi’s own contributions. The scattered debris of a crumbling country that forms her decrepit bedsit of a set all has a part to play, too, whether it’s funeral wreaths or sacramental sweeties. Gone to the Dogs isn’t a show about offering solutions, less still about agitating for action. But if you feel like things are sliding inexorably down the pan, it might just offer you the warped, bitter memorial service you need. David Kettle

God Catcher ****

Underbelly Bristo Square (Venue 302), until 28 August

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Greek myths continue to provide a rich ground of inspiration for new work, as this fresh musical take on the story of Arachne proves. Our young Arachne (Nene to her family) learns to weave with her mother Agape in the small backwater town of Hypaepa. As she grows into a woman, her spectacular work attracts attention from far and wide, but the town’s elders fear it might also attract the attention of the Gods.

So far, so Ovid. But that’s where this version of the story by Cassie Muise and Tyler McKinnon takes an intriguing twist. This Arachne doesn’t boast about her skills, but uses them to tell the truth about the way the Gods exploit human beings (particularly women). When Athena challenges her to a weaving competition, she knows she must seize the moment, even if she pays for it with her life.

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There are serious points being made here, but the exuberant energy of Becky Hope-Palmer’s production never falters. The young cast from Canada, Malta and the UK are superb led by Yna Tresvalles as Arachne, the headstrong child who grows into a quietly determined young woman. Isabella Gervais is a wonderfully sarcastic Athena, and Colum Findlay charms as the mischievous Hermes (“Don’t shoot the messenger!”) Above all, it’s full of heart, particularly in taking time to show Arachne’s tender relationships with her parents.

This Arachne for the #MeToo generation challenges how stories are told and by whom, and this is as threatening to those in power today as it was in ancient Greece. For all the fun of this show - and it is fun - there is something deeply chilling about the way Zeus barrels on near the end in an attempt to wrest back control of the story like so many Harvey Weinsteins. Susan Mansfield