Miss Nightingale: A Burlesque Musical, by Matthew Bugg, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, until May 11

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This is a gorgeous, glamorous, hugely entertaining show that simply revels in its setting and atmosphere. It exudes the look, the feel and the sounds of the 1940s – 1942 in particular.

While the height of The Blitz may have passed air-raids are not uncommon and the war is not going well in North Africa. Rommel, The Desert Fox, is laying siege to Tobruk and nurse and wannabe cabaret star Maggie Brown has a brother fighting in the desert.

This maybe a burlesque musical but this is a show with a heart. It’s not all song and dance but is a rich examination of people living each day as if it were their last.

True, there are a lot of nicely crafted, wonderfully risque show numbers, but there are also moments of introspection, of tenderness and betrayal. In short, this is a proper play, a play with music.

Writer, composer, musical director and actor Matthew Bugg has fashioned a wonderful period confection, but, those with a sweet-tooth should beware, Miss Nightingale is a bird with bite. She’s a feisty character on stage and this is a feisty show.

Director Peter Rowe has staged the show as if the quartet of leads have produced a cabaret based on their own lives. The whole thing is played out on a nightclub stage.

The performance provides a wonderful showcase for real-life burlesque star Amber Topaz. She plays the eponymous Miss Nightingale, a Sheffield lass, who has come to London to be a nightclub singer. She does her bit for the war effort by volunteering as a nurse during the day but yearns for a life in the spotlight.

Her spiv boyfriend Tom Fuller (Alex Tomkins) introduces her to supper club owner Sir Frank Worthington-Blythe (Tomm Coles) who is looking for a new act – something to set his club apart. He finds it in Amber and the saucy songs provided for her by George Nowodny (Ilan Goodman) a Polish jew seeking refuge in London, having experienced the hedonistic nightclub scene in pre-war Berlin.

Although, Amber commands the stage, it’s not a one woman show. it is very much an ensemble piece and her three male co-stars more than hold their own and provide a lot of extra colour and emotional depth.

As you may expect Miss Nightingale tips her hat to Kander and Ebb’s classic musical Cabaret – but it’s a knowing homage and it’s a testament to Matthew Bugg’s writing and Peter Rowe’s staging that the show doesn’t pale in comparison.

This is almost a sell-out. An extra Saturday matinee has been added. Catch it if you can. You won’t be sorry.

Andrew Clarke

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