Miss Nightingale is a musical set in wartime 1942, written and directed by (and starring!) Matthew Bugg. It has been touring since 2011; this fifth production is appropriately playing in the subterranean space which is the theatre in the Vaults. There are posters on the walls in the style of WW2 posters (designed by Polly Meynell), a charming programme in the style of a ration book, and an extra gift in the form of a chocolate bar ration which would usually be enough to win me over.
I really wanted to be won over too. I wanted to like a new musical, one that centred on love between two men, and I wanted to be bowled over by a sassy female star called Miss Nightingale. Unfortunately I came away disappointed. Considering the title of the show is Miss Nightingale, and that the eponymous character is a cabaret singer by night in London’s newest underground nightspot, I assumed that this character would be larger than life, and have an amazing voice. Tamar Broadbent does hit the right notes but at times is drowned out by the band (who are all also actors in the show), and her acting to us felt wooden. There is something fundamental here that does not work with the casting.
The love story is between the upright British impresario who has set up the new club, Sir Frank Worthington-Blythe (Nicholas Coutu-Langmead), and Jurek ‘George’ Nowodny (Conor O’Kane), the Polish Jew who is working in the club. I found this to be quite a sweet relationship, but it could have been developed further. The actors do a good job but I noticed O’Kane more for his good looks than his acting (his take on this role is quite a humorous one), whereas Coutu-Langmead is strong and I was pleased to see that his instrumental talents stretched from the banjo all the way to the viola via the violin and the ukulele!
Of course it is admirable to write a musical single-handedly, and some of the songs (particularly the ballads) are well sung and warrant a further listen. However, the counterpuntal formula behind too many of them felt a bit repetitive, and when the big numbers are about situations such as ‘trapping my pussy in the door’ they really do have to be delivered with a bit more sauce and a lot more oomph. Miss Nightingale the Musical is ambitious, and it has succeeded in putting gay love and persecution to the fore of this World War Two setting, but it needs more focus and direction, and less rambling and fewer songs (apparently Bugg has already taken a few out for the London audience, it must have been even longer!). With a fabulous lead in place, I could possibly forgive him for the outrageous innuendoes.
hattydaze rating: **/*****