When translating a well-known plot such as Nunsense from a female to all-male cast, it’s easy to try to make too much of the cross-gender humour. Fortunately Matt Byrne, in this production, didn’t do that. The humour and warmth of the performance came from the diversity and strength of the performers themselves.
Byrne had cast soundly, making sure there was sufficient delineation between the five very different characters – the surviving members of the convent community after the unfortunate deaths of the majority from food poisoning. David Gauci was central to the musical’s success. He had a warmth and credibility as Sister Mary Regina, the Reverend Mother. His was an assured acting performance and his accustomed strong, mellow baritone brought a lovely richness to his songs. With timing and judgement, he ensured that the humour of his lines came through in its own right, and didn’t descend into cheap cross-gender gags. His falling-about monologue on the bar stools was hilarious.
Matt Byrne showed commendable restraint in his role of Sister Hubert. He was a fine foil to Gauci. While arch and catty at times he subtly made it clear that Hubert was important but not quite in charge of the convent. Their duet, Just A Couple ‘A Sisters was a delight.
The amusing premise of this musical is that the Sisters are performing a concert as a fund-raiser to bury the remaining four nuns who are in the convent’s freezer awaiting burial. Ron Abelita as Sister Mary Amnesia, while mostly and humorously living up to the name, had an amusing moment in the spotlight when running the quiz at the fund-raiser. He gave a sustained, convincing performance then, and throughout.
Chris Stanfield as the gruff, street-wise Sister Robert Anne had an appropriately sharp edge, shown to particular effect in the solo Playing Second Fiddle. Jayke Melling as the young Sister Mary Leo was convincingly naive and optimistic. Importantly, he used his dancing skills well in the role.
Choreographer Rose Vallen did well to keep the movement snappy and consistent. It was important that she maintained variety and interest, given that otherwise, much of the content of the musical would have been a static concert.
Ben Saunders excelled as MD, sitting upstage at the keyboard throughout the performance, accompanying the songs and action. He too, was in conventional nun’s habit, as Sister Billy Field. The staging worked well and he ensured the show’s musicality, pace and energy.
Nunsense and its spin-offs are light, musical and funny. This version was entirely consistent with that pattern, and our expectations. The large opening night audience was amused and appreciative.