Review: Miss Nightingale – the musical, Vaults

“You’ve got to get your sausage where you can”

It’s fascinating to be able to revisit shows along their developmental cycle. I first saw Miss Nightingale in its initial chamber-musical incarnation at the King’s Head back in 2011 and since then, it has become a fully-fledged piece which has toured the UK extensively. This residency at the Vaults marks the show’s fifth production and the first time I’ve been able to revisit and reassess Matthew Bugg’s actor-musician musical.

Set in London in 1942, it relays two parallel and interconnected narratives – the metamorphosis of nurse Maggie Brown to fresh new cabaret star Miss Nightingale, and the illicit gay love affair between her Polish-Jewish émigré songwriter and the upper-class war hero-turned-nightclub-impresario who is behind their rise. As bombs continue to fall on London, contemporary attitudes toward homosexuality threaten to cause no less potent explosions. Continue reading “Review: Miss Nightingale – the musical, Vaults”

Review: Miss Nightingale – the musical, King’s Head Theatre

“Maybe we should be less Berlin, we need to be more English”

Currently playing in the late night slot at the King’s Head Theatre is new musical Miss Nightingale. It is the baby of Matthew Bugg who wrote the music and lyrics as well as the book and also serves as director here. Set in wartime London 1942, it weaves together the stories of three people, a nurse who longs to become a cabaret star, her Polish-Jewish songwriter and the owner of the club who could make everything happen. But whilst the show has fun charting the sensational rise to fame of the titular Miss Nightingale, it also looks at the experience of homosexual men during wartime, at a time when the relative permissiveness of the 20s and 30s gave way to a dangerous paranoia as songwriter George starts a furtively hidden affair with the aristocratic club owner Sir Frank Connor.

The two strands are woven together throughout in a way which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. Bugg has had a great time composing a set of songs for Miss Nightingale which could have come straight out of Cabaret or Chicago and they are delivered with a nice saucy twinkle by Amber Topaz who rises above the limited scope offered by the set most effectively. The more ‘regular’ songs are less memorable it has to be said, though he has also constructed a nice set of trio songs where all three voices are allowed to intertwine and harmonise in an engaging way. Continue reading “Review: Miss Nightingale – the musical, King’s Head Theatre”