As I walked away from Oxford's New Theatre last night, I saw a monk in his habit, rushing from the train station, complete with backpack and a rolly suitcase. In this city of constant wonder, with its chapels and its ecclesiastical acclaim, it is not an uncommon occurrence to see real, modern monks or nuns, being as they are members of our rich community.
So Sister Act fits in well here, with its celebration of Sisters plus its recognition of their normality, and capacity for love and loyalty. This production had energy, heart and pazzazz, and worked to confirm that nuns are fun.
Alexandra Burke played the main part of Deloris in the production - not an easy task given Whoopi Goldberg's iconic and acclaimed portrayal of the lead role in the 1992 film. Burke performed well under the burden of such a predecessor; her vocal performance was strong and impressive, and her characterisation, although not 100% consistent, was physically and emotionally bold.
Other stand-out performances included Karen Mann as Mother Superior, whose solo, 'Here within these walls', had gravitas and humour, and Alice Stokoe as youngest member of the convent, the naïve and gawky Sister Mary Robert. Her performance constantly drew my attention; as the inexperienced young nun got to grips with soul music, her awkward but improving dance and vocalisation was depicted with skill by Stokoe.
The weirdest portrayal had to be that by Aaron Lee Lambert, who played Curtis: the murderous, callous, belittling boyfriend of Deloris. Lambert's Curtis was butter-wouldn't-melt to the point that the butter would probably be solid enough to build a monastery with. The lines and lyrics in general would lend themselves to a sickly-sweet, two-faced characterisation, but Lambert played it entirely sweet; there was no sense of irony. This made for an incredibly sinister rendition of the song 'When I Find My Baby', which includes the lyrics "And when I find that girl, I'm gonna kill that girl! I'm gonna wham! Bam! Blam! And drill that girl!".
The scenes based in the convent with the nuns really shone. They worked well as an ensemble vocally and they had saintly comic timing. Indeed, the overall energy of this show was very high. I felt the spirit move me more than once; it really makes you want to get up and dance in the aisles. The choreography, which was devised by the Strictly judge we all love to hate, Craig Revel Horwood, was slick and tight. It struck the balance between fuss and simplicity well and complemented the music.
All in all, this is a feel-good show with a strong cast. There's glitter, there's sequins, there are nuns and there is toe-tapping, grooving music. What's not to like?