Review: Miss Nightingale, by Matthew Bugg, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, until October 3
- Credit: Photo: © Keith Mindham Photogra
The bombs may have been falling on war-torn London during The Blitz but that didn’t dampen the party spirit as The Bright Young Things escaped the night-time raids in underground night-clubs.
Living each day as if it were their last, they were entertained by cabaret performers like Miss Nightingale who kept them laughing with risqué songs and stopped them brooding on what tomorrow may bring.
Miss Nightingale is a brilliant new musical from former New Wolsey and Mercury Theatre choreographer and musical director Matthew Bugg. This is the third time that the show has appeared in our theatres and it’s better than ever.
Miss Nightingale has been given new songs and a new cast, the dramatic structure of the show has been tweaked and everything has a much sharper focus.
It’s billed as a musical –there are loads of great tunes and plenty of laughs to be had throughout the show – but it’s more of a play with music.
It’s a show with a strong emotional heart and the dramatic story of friendships and relationships, which was more of a backdrop in previous productions is now very much centre stage.
Writer and musician Matthew Bugg has teamed up with Bury Theatre Royal’s Karen Simpson for this latest outing and she has brought a different sensibility to the production. The songs are now more of a storytelling device rather than an end in themselves.
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They are a mixture of cheeky cabaret ditties telling of everyday trials like war-time rationing (You’ve got to get your sausage where you can), or quieter, reflective songs revealing moments in their personal lives – songs dealing with loss (Bluebird), regret (Understudy) and self-realisation (Someone Else’s Song).
Miss Nightingale is a hugely entertaining, satisfyingly complex show but delivered in a crowd-pleasing style. There’s a laugh in every scene but this never undermines the dramatic heart of the piece.
The new cast tackle their roles with relish. Clara Darcy has a dazzling range of facial expressions which she utilises to great effect when she is on stage but cleverly allows the audience to see that Maggie Nightingale off-stage is a real person with real-world problems. She never allows Maggie to become a caricature.
Nicholas Coutu-Langmead is wonderful as impresario Sir Frank Worthington-Blythe while Conor O’Kane brings a sense of other-worldliness to Polish refugee-songwriter George Nowodny. Conor’s performance of Meine Liebe Berlin was incredibly moving.
Christopher Hogben achieves one of the most difficult feats of the evening in making spiv, black marketer and Maggie’s original manager, Tom Fuller, more than just a boo-hiss villain. He may be disreputable, he may callous but he is a man who has been forced into making a living in any way he can.
Miss Nightingale is a wonderful evocation of a different era but has some poignant echoes for today. It’s told with wit and style, has some great songs and is incredibly funny.
It got a well-deserved standing ovation on opening night and is one of my shows of the year. Catch it before Saturday if you possibly can. You won’t regret it.