DAWN SIEVEWRIGHT is excited to be reprising the role of Fionnula in the Olivier Award-winning Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour which begins its West End debut run at the Duke of York’s Theatre on 15 May (previews began on 9 May).
The production started out at the National Theatre of Scotland, going on to the National Theatre in London, before beginning a UK tour. The show, directed by Vicky Featherstone and adapted from Alan Warner’s The Sopranos by Lee Hall, features an all-female cast telling the coming-of-age story of a group of school choir girls on a wild night in London.
Dawn’s recent theatre credits include Glasgow Girls (National Theatre Scotland), The A-Z of Mrs P (Southwark Playhouse), Quadrophenia (UK tour) and Legally Blonde (Savoy Theatre).
Here she is in conversation with Musical Theatre Review contributor Tal Fox.
Can you tell us a bit about the show?
We’ve been touring with Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour for three years. It’s the story of six young school girls who are at Catholic school and they go to a choir competition with the nuns from school. When they head out to Edinburgh to do the choir competition, the contest is the last thing on their minds, they just want to go crazy and drink and have a party. They want to lose the competition so they can go back home and hook up with the sailors at the port at the end of the night. The main point is to have the best 24 hours of their lives.
What is the message of the piece?
It’s about growing up, about what it’s like to be a child and grow up through teenage years. It’s about living life, about hope and happiness.
Is this a show that will speak to audiences today?
I think everyone can relate to it because everyone knows what it’s like to be a teenager. We have an all-female cast, but young, old, male or female, it doesn’t actually matter, it’s a universal thing: not fitting in, sexuality, growing up, it’s something everyone has gone through in their life.
Tell us about your character…
I play a character called Fionnula, she’s quite feisty, and doesn’t hold back. She’s a bit of a party animal and she’s really passionate about her friends. She just wants to have an absolutely amazing night. Along the way she is surprised to find out a couple of things about herself. The play happens over a 24-hour period, and by the end of it she’s a very different person to when it started. She still has all the attributes she started with, but she definitely finds out some truths about herself.
Do all the characters go through the journey of finding out things about themselves?
Yeah, absolutely, each of us has that experience. They all go to Edinburgh together, but then they all split up and go off on their own adventures. When they come back together as a group, they all feel differently about themselves and life in general.
How do you relate to your character?
She is pretty much like me. I read the novel when I auditioned for the play – all the attributes she has, I share. She’s quite fiery, she says what she means, there’s no stopping her. She’s got a forcefulness about her that I share. I love her, she’s an amazing character, the best character I’ve played in fact. I’d love to play her for the rest of my life, but I probably won’t look like a teenager for the rest of my life…
How have rehearsals been going?
We’ve had a couple of new cast members come in, but it’s mostly the girls who have been performing the show for the last two years, so it’s just putting the pieces back together; it’s not taken that long. It’s exciting! Rehearsals have been amazing, we have all spent most of the days laughing. Everybody has been having a good time.
What have you done to make it different this time?
We have had new people coming in, which is always nice. We’ve got a new lead member of the cast and a couple of new swings. You always find something fresh when you’re talking about the story. We have toured it all over the UK, America and Australia, but you still find different things. It’s exciting finding new ideas because it means that we’re not ever doing the same thing every night.
How was the show received in other countries?
We toured it across the UK, starting at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which was amazing. Then we took it to America, but the audiences out there seemed a little more reserved. A lot of the language in the show is brash, and we don’t hold back, so I think they were a little taken aback with it and how powerful it was. But they still seemed to enjoy it, just in different ways.
We took it to the Melbourne Festival; I think Australians could identify more with us sarcastic Scots (!), they reacted really well to the sharpness of the comedy. Then we brought it down to the National Theatre last year. We thought it might have a bit of a different reception there, but audiences absolutely loved it, and now we’re at the top tier of the cake in the West End. So commercially the show is going to be reaching the most people that it’s ever reached.
The show is based on the play adapted by Lee Hall, the brainchild behind Billy Elliot. Are there any similarities?
Lee is famous for writing quick-witted scripts, the comedy is just forever flowing. But I think he’s also really talented at writing for working-class people, being really honest and dark about things that we all know. I think it’s a bit like Billy Elliot, it’s got life in it and it’s really funny, but it’s also moving at some points as well as happy. It works fantastically across the border, I’ve never worked with a more talented writer in my life.
Sounds like you’re really enjoying yourself on this show?
Yeah, it’s great, I’ve loved it, I love all the girls as well, so I’m thrilled I get to come back and do it again.
Tell us a bit about your background?
I’ve been acting for ten years since graduating from the Guildford School of Acting. I’ve done some tours and I was in the West End production of Legally Blonde. This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this, which is more of a play, which is great. My mum is a Latin and Ballroom dance teacher, so I was raised doing that, and then I took up musicals and singing when I was in my teens. When I was a teenager, my mum told me I had to decide what I wanted to do. It was quite tough, but I had to knuckle down and make a decision.
Who do you think should go and see the show?
Everyone. We thought it would just appeal to a younger generation, but we’ve had men and women of 75 coming and absolutely loving it. Like I said before, everybody knows what it’s like to be at school and be a teenager, so it takes people back to times when they, perhaps, misbehaved and were growing up. So I’d say young, old, male, female, it’s just a completely universal story.
Tickets for Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour are available HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour at the Theatre Royal, Brighton and Touring – Review