Sister Act

Aug 18 2017 | By More

★★★☆☆  Energetic

theSpace@Surgeons Hall (Venue 53): Mon 14 – Sun 20 Aug 2017
Review by Hugh Simpson

Sister Act, Edinburgh University Footlights’ first Fringe show in 20 years, overcomes some glitches in its staging to entertain successfully.

Based on the popular film – but with a different score, courtesy of Glenn Slater and Alan Menken – Bill and Cheri Steinkellner’s musical focuses on nightclub diva Deloris van Cartier. After witnessing a gangland murder, Deloris is forced into hiding in a convent, where she transforms the nuns’ inept choir.

Sister Act publicity image. Pic: Edinburgh University Footlights

Most people attending will already know what they want from the show, and for the most part they get it.

Many of the show’s problems stem from the way the venue is used. The Grand Theatre at Surgeon’s Hall is a difficult size and shape – a low, wide box of a room, with the audience on three sides and an unforgiving acoustic.

Mics are used for singing, which is natural in this space, but the sound is harsh and oddly balanced at times. With the placement of the seating, it is unavoidable that performers will have their backs to people a great deal of the time, and this needs to be accounted for.

Unamplified dialogue is simply lost on many, even when the band are not playing; when they are, you have no chance, especially with the mechanical buzz, presumably from air-conditioning, that is ever-present.

jokes disappear

Not only do jokes disappear, important plot points are hard to make out. If you were not already familiar with the story, you might wonder what was going on.

Talya Steinberg, Alice Hoult, Anna Law, Brett McCarthy Harrop, Nicola Frier, Mhairi Goodwin, Maegan ‘Ariel’ Hearons, Connie McFarlane, Sarah Couper and Shannon Devlin. Pic EU Footlights

Luckily, the musical numbers are strong enough to make up for this; once you get used to the slightly grating sound, there is some excellent singing here.

Sarah Couper is a fine Deloris, with a strong voice and assured comic timing. It could be an even bigger performance – if you can’t go over the top as such a larger than life character, when can you?

A similar desire to underplay affects Jake Rumble’s Curtis. He is a mean, cartoon gangster that cannot be realistic, so once again a good performance could be more expansive. No such problems with his sidekicks Joey (Fraser Mycroft), Pablo (Peter Ning) and TJ (Adam Makepeace) whose featured number is gleefully silly.

Talya Steinberg’s Mother Superior is an accomplished, effectively stern performance. Matt Galloway takes a while to get into his featured numbers as sympathetic cop Eddie Souther, but has a winningly charming way about him on stage. Douglas Stephenson’s Monsignor O’Hara is a pleasingly broad characterisation.

There can be little doubt – or much surprise – that the highlights of the show are the nuns’ choruses. Choreographer Caili Crow really shines here, with some high octane, thoroughly impressive set pieces. Alice Hoult (who also shines in her solo number as Sister Mary Robert), Nicola Frier, Mhairi Goodwin and Brett McCarthy Harrop lead an ensemble that displays humour, timing and an ebullient energy.

To bash through the whole show in just over 100 minutes is a real achievement for director Ansley Clark, especially when some productions in Edinburgh have been pushing three hours. It does come at some cost to the narrative, especially added to the audibility issue, and it is still a fair old time without an interval.

However, there is enough fizz and fun here to compensate, in what – despite some problems – is a production that scores highly in straightforward enjoyability.

Running time 1 hour 45 minutes (no interval)
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53), Nicolson Street, EH8 9DW
Monday 14– Sunday 20 August 2017
Daily at 8.00 pm
Book tickets on the Fringe website:
Company website:
Facebook: @edfootlights
Twitter: @eufootlights


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