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MTG show fills refurbished space with euphoric energy

REVIEW.

A warm hug of a play is how Beatrice Papazoglouu, director of Musical Theatre Gisborne's production of Nunsense, recently described the show. And a warm hug it is but with laughs, lots of laughs.

The intimate nature of MTG's refurbished theatre enhances the audience's sense of involvement from the start as the performers glide among the tables and share a few words before they take to Graeme Nicoll's beautifully designed stage to seamlessly start the show.

Costumed in black and white habits, and accompanied by Sean Scanlen on keyboard and synthesiser, the cast of five fill the stage, and occasionally the auditorium, with euphoric energy. They are miked up so the singing is clear and evenly balanced with the live music. The singing is warm and beautifully harmonised and the performers are so clearly enjoying themselves the acting seems effortless.

Quannah Nickerson's Irish-accented Sister Mary Regina is warm-hearted, sometimes lightly baffled, and anxious to raise funds to bury the last four sisters out of 52 who died from botulism after eating vichyssoise prepared by Sister Julia Child . . . of God (a hilarious running gag). The deceased nuns are in the freezer and the five out of 19 surviving Little Sisters of Hoboken don't have the money because someone bought a Betamax.

On the face of it the plot's premise could seem a little dark but the absurdity of it clears the way for occasional gallows humour. The nuns are no strangers to a light sprinkling of innuendo either. As they sing in the opening number Nunsense is Habit Forming, “We're on our way to heaven/ We're here to raise some hell.”

Despite that promise, the show is so joyous, engaging and light on its feet the two children in last night's preview audience were as enraptured as everyone else.

Cast as Southern-sass accented Sister Mary Hubert, Lerina Julies' confidence on stage — especially seen and heard in her delivery of a spiritual-styled number — sets a new benchmark in her evolution as a performer. Heather Derby relishes in Brooklyn-accented, streetwise, Sister Robert Anne eccentricities. That her character is a wannabe performer is a nice irony since Derby is such an accomplished singer.

As the young novice with aspirations to be the world's first nun ballerina it's hard to imagine anyone else playing the part of sunny Sister Mary Leo other than Nicole Stannard who lights up the stage with her character's freshness.

One of the biggest surprises is that as Sister Mary Amnesia (she can't remember her real name since a crucifix fell on her head) this is Annette Nyman's stage debut. Nyman naturalises her character, who is often comically anxious at her memory loss, and the audience warms to her.

At its best when centred on the problem of raising money to bury the dead nuns, the script includes some almost random pastiches but the cast succeed in making these entirely their own. With ensemble song and dance routines, and solo turns they also manage the huge amount of stagecraft with apparent ease while the humour bubbles throughout.

The big question now is, can the nuns get through the show without a single penguin gag? Well, you'll just have to find out for yourselves.

Amen.