In June 2019, a group of Durham students performed the original musical We’ll Have Nun of It, written by Finola Southgate, in Caedmon Hall. Since it was such a successful hit, the talented troupe will perform the musical again this month at Assembly Rooms Theatre. Indigo Stage got the opportunity to ask Finola and Rosie Dart, the director, a few questions about the hotly anticipated revival.
Can you give a brief summary of We’ll have Nun of it and the topics it covers?
Rosie: We’ll Have Nun of It is a contemporary musical which explores the nuanced experience of convent school life in 1967. The piece follows four girls as they navigate growing up in a restrained and confusing environment and seeks to tackle the darker issues surrounding convent school life as well as highlighting the importance of sisterhood,
female friendships and glimpses of change in trying times. The show exposes historical narratives that aren’t often explored in musicals – Irish immigration, female queerness, faith and sexual abuse within the Catholic sphere are important experiences to portray and to analyse now more than ever in a world where, still, young girls are being faced with manipulative control, homophobia and xenophobia. The cast is comprised of four actor-musicians who between them carry a large portion of the musical’s score, enabling another layer of expression and skill to be captured in a show where truth and female empowerment are at the forefront.
What inspired you to write the piece?
Finola: HBT’s pitch-a-production provided me with the initial platform to put my music into a theatrical context. I went to a Catholic primary school, and my mum comes from an Irish Catholic parentage. My school fostered community but I wanted to look at the initial influence it had on my worldview and how this differed from my mum’s experience. I have been blessed by being surrounded by incredible women growing up, but I wanted to explore more about this part of my upbringing and the themes that arise growing up within that environment.
I had numerous phone calls with my mum about her experience growing up as the daughter of Irish immigrants attending a convent high school in east London in the 70’s. I talked to my Irish friends on their experiences, and how they are still told not to tell other family members about their sexuality. When Rosie took on the project, it took on more life, combining the stories from our grandparents’ experiences moving to the UK as Irish immigrants in the 20th century.
Have you made any changes to the play since last year?
Finola: Three more songs, a whole lot of transitions and dialogue. I wanted there to be more of a joining narrative to see the changes over the course of a year and to give the girls clearer identities and understanding behind where they are coming from and how they transition throughout towards this notion of being grown.
Why should people come to see the show?
Rosie: The production is extremely unique in its approach to ‘musical theatre’. The narrative is conveyed through a melange of genres including pop, soul, folk and choral. We’ll Have Nun of It has also just been announced as one of the 12 shortlisted production’s for Pleasance’s 2020 Charlie Hartill Funding Award, the top Edinburgh Fringe venue’s most prestigious award for emerging theatre makers. This is a testament to the sheer passion and dedication of all involved in the show, from its creation, composition, orchestration, choreography, direction and performance, each element of We’ll Have Nun of It has been refined and developed to ensure audiences feel moved, challenged and enlightened at every moment. The production is only one hour, and you will leave feeling empowered and humming all of Finola’s incredibly catchy tunes.
What is your song writing process, and how did you balance writing a musical with studying a degree?
Finola: I wouldn’t say I have a set process. Sometimes I begin with a melody or chord progression and aim to build something around that. Other times I have a personal experience, hear a story or read something in the news which develops into a set idea or a more fluid narrative. It’s important to trust yourself and persevere with experimenting. Don’t be afraid to share your music with others and ask for feedback. Some of these songs started out from playing around on Garageband during my year abroad recording with apple headphones. Others are some of the first songs I wrote. Once I had a more fixed idea of the story, I had a clear focus in my writing which helped channel the tone through the music and lyrics.
I wouldn’t necessarily advise writing a musical whilst finishing your dissertation and doing your finals, but it is possible! This was mainly through dedicating a certain amount of time to it each week and giving myself personal deadlines. Once I finished my exams, I then spent 6 days and nights writing out scores before they were printed and bound.
Which is your favourite moment in the show?
Finola: I love ‘Grown’. Each girl has their own narrative to tell but they come together in this beautiful showing of solidarity and sisterhood. I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of girls supporting each other, life is too short for cattiness and dragging each other down.
What message do you want the audience to come away with after watching We’ll have Nun of it?
Finola: The importance of voicing stories and unheard narratives, of talking to each other, of supporting each other and of challenging what you are told and learning to love and accept who you are.
If you could cast yourself as any character in the musical, which one would you be?
Finola: From a character perspective, I think I’m a mix of Stella and Bernie, which is fitting considering they’re named after my mum and granny. However, the cast are unbelievably talented, and I couldn’t do what they can!
We’ll Have Nun of It will be performed at Assembly Rooms Theatre on 23rd February at 2:30pm and 7:30pm.
Image: Sister Sister Productions