Imogen Usherwood is captivated by Hild Bede Theatre’s new song cycle We’ll Have Nun of It.

New writing is abundant in Durham, but rarely do we encounter an original musical offering from a student. Finola Southgate’s We’ll Have Nun of It, directed by Rosie Dart, is a polished, slick and compelling production which engages with a whole host of important questions about growing up in a controlling world.

The piece itself is a one-act song cycle, following four young women at a Catholic girls’ school in 1960s London. Southgate has constructed characters with distinct backstories, dwelling especially on the experience of Irish immigrants to England. Indeed, We’ll Have Nun of It provides a space in which various issues are addressed including female sexuality, freedom of expression and identity. The music is a triumph; Southgate allows certain tunes and phrases to weave through the narrative, returning with a new significance as the story develops.

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The cast, a quartet comprising Bella Elwes, Rose Galbraith, Izzy Mackie and Lily Spillane, are cohesive, smooth and phenomenally talented. They slip effortlessly between each song, following a tightly choreographed set of motions, alongside singing in effortless harmony and supplementing the band with their own musical instruments. It is evident how much love the cast have for this production and how much energy they have invested in it. The band, led by Honor Halford-Macleod and featuring Ben Bucknall and Fred Brockman, also move seamlessly between songs and sustain the emotional atmosphere of the show.

Hild Bede’s Caedman Hall is used as a black box venue for We’ll Have Nun of It, creating an intimate space for this small-cast performance. Staging is kept fairly minimal, with a few chairs, cushions and blankets as well as several musical instruments, allowing the power of the score and its cast to take centre stage without being overcome by props. The only disadvantage was the distinct lack of visibility for audience members not in the front row; when the actors sat on the floor it was virtually impossible to see them, which was a shame.

Southgate has created a beautiful show, which a compelling soundtrack and script, combined with innovative use of lighting and sound, as well as an outstanding cast who work together like clockwork. It is a fascinating and engaging production from start to finish, which showcases the sheer hard and work and dedication of an entire production team – I hope this is not the last time it is performed.

Photography by Rosie Dart