Performance Performing Arts Reviews

Review: Nunsense (Gardner & Wife Theatre, 2016)

Off-Broadway global phenomenon takes centre stage in PJ and Penang with unmistakable Malaysian zest.

Written by Dan Goggin | Directed by Richard Harding Gardner | Produced by Natalie Chong
Musical Direction by Llew Marsh | Choreographed by Joseph Gonzales
Starring Shanthini Venugopal, Elvira Arul, Nicole-Anne Thomas, Teresa Goh and Junji Delfino

After 31 years of success worldwide in 26 languages and via television adaptations, sequels and spin-offs, Dan Goggin’s Off-Broadway musical comedy Nunsense returns to PJ Live Arts (PJLA) for the first time since its record-breaking 2001 staging. But once again in the hands of Gardner & Wife Theatre, it is coloured with a Malaysianness you won’t be able to catch anywhere else.

What about Nunsense?

Upon admission, audiences find themselves at a wacky talent show fundraiser organised by five nuns. They are the only ones who evaded death from Sister Julia’s contaminated Tom Yam soup while out playing bingo.

This fundraiser is in support of the Kampung Pandan Catholic School — out of burial money and constantly pressed by the Jabatan Kesihatan to clean their freezer in which rests four sisters they couldn’t afford to bury. In dire need of funds, these sisters strap on their glitterati shoes to put on a show. They resound in a chorus, “We’re here to show you nuns are fun, and maybe a bit risqué.”

Sounds zany? Wait till you find out who stars in this: Shanthini Venugopal, Junji Delfino, Elvira Arul, Nicole-Ann Thomas and Teresa Goh are the Five Little Sisters of Balakong.

What did we like?

Heavy with slapstick, Nunsense effuses the blithe, high spirited energy that isn’t typically associated with nuns.

Watch out for Mother Superior who puts on a solo, burlesque number complete with Chinese hand fans, or when the well-intentioned Sister Mary Leo uses the bishop’s mitre as bunny ears for her ballet performance. Then there is Sister Robert Anne recounts her formative years on the rough streets of Sentul and even does impersonations of her Indian uncle, filling the hall with laughter.

These five ladies are quite the spectacle for their gusto, strong stage presence and unwavering energy throughout the each song and dance sequence. We even felt the need to contribute to this fictional fundraiser.

What made us go errr…?

Although the show challenges the trope of nuns in comedy, much of Nunsense is fluff without resolution. Warning: there will also be the occasional dad joke. “How do you make holy water?” someone asks. “You boil the hell out of it,” was the response.

Furthermore, what about the dreams of fame and fortune these nuns feel so strongly about — Sister Mary Leo wants to become a world-class ballerina, while Sister Mary Amnesia sees herself as a Nashville country singer. Surely these nuns had huge potential to be more than just fuel for a short-lived talented show?

The production also reuses some colourful set-pieces from The Owl Who Was Afraid of The Dark which came across a little out of place instead of adding to the comedy.


This isn’t just another staging of a successful Off-Broadway show production; Gardner & Wife Theatre’s version strikes an important balance between honouring the original and adapting it for local audiences. Nunsense left viewers chuckling away as promised. Highly recommended (even more so if you’re Catholic)!


Nunsense runs  13-   24 July and 3 – 7 August at PJ Live Arts and 27 – 31 July at PenangPAC. Tickets are priced at Rm 88, RM108, RM128 (VIP), RM588 (6-pax Premium) and RM688 (6-pax VIP). PenangPAC tickets may be purchased on TicketPro while PJ Live Arts tickets can be found on Concessions are available for schools and charities, contact Donna at 012-230 2469 for details!

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