The Holy Holy Bus – Lyric Theatre – Review by Cathy Brown
Produced by Brassneck Theatre Company
Written by Pearse Elliott
From 10 – 20 Aug
Brassneck Theatre Company’s production of The Holy Holy Bus is the second all female cast on the Lyric Theatre Stage in a matter of months. Following on from The Ladykillers, The Holy Holy Bus is a brasher evening of entertainment that once again features some strong female performances.
Lily (played with relish by Stella McCusker) and her daughter Sally (a thoughtful performance from Roisin Gallagher) need one last adventure. Lily is ill, but determined to get her daughter’s mind off her loser ex-husband. Bored with winding up doctors and visiting priests, Lily suggests a Catholic pilgrimage on the ‘holy holy’ bus which will culminate in a climb of Croagh Patrick.
Tour leader Perpetua (Claire Connor) is devout and pious and her strict rules of no swearing, no drinking and no gambling on the bus threaten to spoil the other ladies’ fun. That fun comes in the form of Shankill Protestant taxi driver Rita (Caroline Curran), who is on the pilgrimage to literally see a different side of Ireland. What starts as a spiritual journey soon morphs into a journey of self-discovery, as the women fight, then bond and slowly reveal the personal reasons behind the search for their own kind of miracle.
Pearse Elliott’s script barrels along at a fast pace, delivering one-liner after one-liner of broad, brash humour. In small B&Bs, a karaoke bar and at the top of Croagh Patrick, the relationships on stage pan out as you would imagine – fights give way to friendship, confidences are made, truths uncovered and the ending will not be a surprise to anyone.
The set is simple, yet effective. Four chairs and two tables are transformed from beds to bus seats, and music and projected images set the different scenes, however the production sometimes seems swallowed up on the Lyric main stage. The decision to have the cast wear microphones also meant that at times the performances were just too loud, losing some of their subtlety.
The comedy is broad and occasionally played for easy laughs. Much of the humour comes from Caroline Curran’s forceful performance as Rita and although the references to 50 Shades of Grey, Iris Robinson and One Direction may not feel as topical as they could, they went down well with the enthusiastic audience. However, the play is most successful in its quieter moments of connection and understanding, particularly in the scenes between Lily and Sally as the doting mother and daughter team, whose catchphrase of ‘I am you and you are me’ is carried through to its logical conclusion.
Tony Devlin directs with a light touch and though some jokes outstay their welcome, the show is undoubtedly entertaining. There is no point looking for surprises in The Holy Holy Bus, what you get instead is a lot of easy laughs, some well-played moments of pathos and Elliott’s accurate ear for the lively speech patterns of working class Northern Ireland.
The Holy Holy Bus has already been a big hit for Brassneck Theatre Company, winning the Audience Award at 2014 Belfast Festival and it is sure to be a summer winner for the Lyric.