New musical We’ll Have Nun of It inspired by family stories of emigrating from Ireland to London
IN 2021, newburytoday featured Finola Southgate who had temporarily returned to her family for the pandemic lockdown after living away for many years.
At that time, she’d got together with old schoolfriends in order to continue to make music.
Finola, 26, grew up in Bucklebury and was a pupil at St Finians Catholic Primary and Kennet schools, which was when she started writing original music as well as singing in local choirs.
In her final year at Durham University, she wrote a musical based on stories of her mother’s experience growing up in a convent school, the history of Irish immigration into the UK and societal changes of the 1960s.
She proposed a new writing piece with some original songs and an initial concept.
“My proposal was chosen and the idea grew, with stories from the director Rosie Dart and family members about growing up, going to convent school, Irish emigration and sisterhood.
“It developed into the hour- long actor-musician musical We’ll Have Nun of It and a finalist for the Charlie Hartill Award (which supports companies to take work to the Edinburgh Fringe) for emerging theatre 2020.
Now Sister Sister Productions – which grew out of Finola and Rosie’s collaboration – is taking the show to London’s The Other Palace Theatre from February 22 to March 10.
The Other Palace is an off West End venue for discovering, developing, exploring and celebrating theatre.
It’s a lively, friendly and inventive place where ideas can be shared and explored, and the next generation of theatre-makers are encouraged, supported and celebrated.
“I went to Mass growing up so Catholicism played a key role in my childhood,” said Finola.
“Rosie the director also grew up in nearby Wargrave. Some of the songs I wrote while at school have developed themselves to being in the show now echoing the experiences of being 17/18 and dealing with the emotions of ending a chapter.”
Set in 1967, there’s a change in the breeze. A new contraceptive pill is available, same-sex relationships are legal and second-wave feminism is in full flux.
Against this new era, four friends navigate life at St Anne’s Convent School.
But as opinions collide and feelings towards one another shift, the group’s final year doesn’t play out as planned.
A poignant, new coming-of-age musical that explores struggles surrounding Irish emigration, sexuality and faith.
The show contains themes of sexual abuse and strong language. It is suitable for 14+.
Although they started the piece in 2019, Finola says several themes continue to take on new relevance.
“Given the recent decision by Pope Francis to allow Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples contrasted by the decision to overturn Roe Vs Wade in the US, it provides a timely comparison to explore the world of 1967 where abortion and homosexuality have just been decriminalised in the UK – although much more work was to be done.
“The piece draws inspiration from personal family stories emigrating over from Ireland to London, the whirlwind period of change in a historic year in policy for the UK and the influence of Catholicism in the convent environment.”
“Another key theme is that of our Irish heritage, drawing on our grandparents’ experiences of emigrating from Ireland to London.
“Addressing the current trend of younger generations leaving Ireland, the musical underscores the importance of preserving one’s roots despite the challenges of migration.
“With many societies around the world living through a period of heightened division, we wanted to focus on the voices of the youth from a previous period of tension.
“Our musical serves as a testament to the value of solidarity and giving young people a voice.
“Whether set against the backdrop of 1967s clash between tradition and revolution or today’s activism, the musical highlights the universal hunger for truth in younger generations to drive change.
“In essence, We’ll Have Nun of It is more than a creative endeavour for us; it’s a heartfelt exploration of our own stories, the stories of Ireland, and the stories of the youth navigating today’s world.
“We invite the audience to join us on this journey, to experience the emotions, challenges, and triumphs that make up the intricate fabric of growing up in a changing world.”