On a spring Wednesday evening I make my way down to Waterloo, accompanied by a friend visiting me in London, to visit the Vaults Theatre and the production Miss Nightingale. With its tunnels and dingy entrance lighting, the Vaults is a perfect setting for a musical set during World War Two, and the production team have done a great job of theme-ing the building, with posters referencing the show’s lyrics (“You’ve Got to Get Your Sausage Where you Can”), to WWII uniforms on display. The programme is mocked up like a ration book and we’re also given a bar of chocolate to share – which is much more welcome for me than the usual press night wine…
This is the fifth staging of Matthew Bugg’s 1940s-set Miss Nightingale, and it tells the story of Maggie, a northern lass thrown into the spotlight on the London club circuit, who is later renamed ‘Miss Nightingale’. Alongside this are Frank, her producer, and George, her songwriter and flatmate. The two men begin a relationship but, due to the criminalistion of homosexuality, their love may be under threat.
I wouldn’t necessarily call this show a musical, more like a play with music, but that classification is neither here nor there. In the current climate, it’s nice to have an original British musical being staged, rather than yet another Broadway transfer. What makes or breaks a musical for me is, ultimately, the songs. If the tunes aren’t whirring around in my head like a propeller the next day then the writers haven’t done their job right. Luckily, I’m still laughing over innuendo-filled ‘The Pussy Song’ and hearing the refrain ‘Stand Up and be Counted’ constantly. The cast’s voices are impressive, especially Nicholas Coutu-Langmead (Frank) and Conor O’Kane (George). The harmonies displayed at the end of the first act in ‘Understudy’ are very ‘One Day More’-esque, and beautiful, though adjustments need to be made to ensure the vocals can be heard over the band. Similarly, I noted another musical theatre reference in addressing the audience as “Ladies, Gentlemen, and those yet to decide”. It felt very Kinky Boots, though maybe I was hyper-aware of it having seen the show two days before.
Certain elements of the show are finessed – the comedy, though not to everyone’s tastes, tickled me – unfortunately the air raid felt inevitable and slightly anti-climatic: with the build up of it being during a musical number one assumes something significant may come out of it, rather than a strange ‘everyone is fine and nothing happened’ tying-up of this plot line within five minutes. Tamar Broadbent is charming as Maggie Nightingale, though I don’t seem to feel the connection or care I do for Frank and George. A line about her being ‘used by everyone’ is certainly true, though I can’t help but wonder if this part of the plot could be made clearer and explored more, maybe opting for one or two of the ‘Miss Nightingale’ numbers to be cut in order to do so, then this could be a significant sub-plot. Broadbent’s charisma is evident, however, and her performance personas as Miss Nightingale are brilliant to watch.
All credits are due to the entire cast, however, who not only act and sing (sometimes dance), but play a variety of instruments, too. It’s wonderful to see a company who are adept at so many things and able to contribute to the show as a whole.
Miss Nightingale is a fun, touching musical set in WWII which will warm hearts, tickle your bellies, and make you want to do a little two-step.
Miss Nightingale runs at the Vaults Theatre until May 20th. Tickets can be booked here.
I was invited to review this show, but as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.