The Vaults, London – until 20 May 2017
Tender and occasionally naughty, Miss Nightingale is a musical that is absolutely spiffing from beginning to end. Whisking audiences back to 1942, Miss Nightingale is the name of a brand new cabaret act who is about to take the world by storm. Surrounding her are her agent Frank, friend George – but the the two men by her side are struggling to deal with their love and bringing it out into the open, leading to misunderstandings and a lot of anger.
Written and directed by Matthew Bugg, there is no sense of pretension or falseness about either the script or the production. Every painful moment between Frank and George (particularly when they discover each other’s betrayal) is sensitively brought to life and heartbreaking as each other attempt to deal with their feelings of insecurity and uncertainty.
It is a story of complicated relationships, not only George and Frank but the increasingly toxic relationship between Maggie (Miss Nightingale) and Tom – which leads to blackmail and difficult moments between George, Frank and Maggie. Of course, the way in which Frank and George’s relationship is discovered can be spotted a mile off, but it is the way in which each character deals with the situation that is fascinating to watch unfold.
At the centre of everything, Tamar Broadbent as Maggie/Miss Nightingale is by turns feisty, emotional and delivers a commanding performance that all of the other cast are able to respond to well. Vocally, she is perhaps stronger in more heartfelt songs such as ‘Understudy’ but delivers the hilarious ‘Sausage Song’ with great flair and personality. There is no doubting the fact she is in charge.
But Broadbent is amply supported by Nicholas Coutu- Langmead as Frank who clearly struggles the most with who he is and constantly uses the excuse of his reputation and standing in society to justify his increasingly bad behaviour towards George and Maggie. It is a finely balanced performance that shows the character’s fear of being judged or worse.
Meanwhile, Conor O’Kane as George delivers a passionate, sincere and increasingly angry performance and whose emotions are perhaps the closest on edge, with his character having to deal with prejudice on all fronts. As he finally explodes at Frank about his attitude, the audience gets a real sense of how personally George takes it about standing up for who you are – no matter how difficult and dangerous it is to do so.
Musically, Miss Nightingale seems to flow better when the story links in with songs such as ‘Mister Nightingale’ and ‘Bluebird’ – but loses this engagement with audience when it throws in songs such as ‘The Pussy Song’ – which is hilarious but it distracts from the story slightly. Understandably it is there to break the tension – but when the tension has been built beautifully it seems a shame to destroy it in key turning points.
Overall, it is a poignant musical that celebrates love in all forms as well as being your own person. But it seems slightly confused about its own identity – is it a cabaret or a straight up musical? thanks to the mix of songs, which are all very good but send off very different vibes to the story and how the audience are supposed to react. That quibble aside, it was an absolutely spiffing evening’s entertainment.