Miss Nightingale, The Vaults

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By guest critic Alistair Wilkinson

Fly to the front line. Sing some songs. Win the war. Live happily ever after. Sounds easy, right? That’s the idyllic goal that two queers, an unmarried mother and an unborn child feel in Matthew Bugg’s dreamy production of Miss Nightingale. This gorgeous depiction of 1940’s Britain hits you right in the feels and pulls on all heartstrings. The set provides an intimate cabaret club vibe, decorated with posters stating memorable lines from the wonderful songs that are performed throughout.

It is a lovely touch to allow some audience members to sit on the stage – we are fully immersed in this intimate world. There are little things that make this production beautiful: the ration book that acts for the programme, the delightful chocolate bar, even all of the light bulbs not working provide a delicate, meaningful atmosphere. Setting this play in The Vaults is genius; the moment the air raid happens the entire room shakes and this intensity is constantly complimented by the noise of the tube overhead.

If my maths are correct, a total of fifteen musical instruments are used throughout. Fifteen. This cast is incredibly talented. The musical numbers are hilarious, witty, touching and sultry; there are too many songs that stick out to name just one highlight. The script is just as clever; it is clear that a lot of thought and intellect has gone behind the making of Miss Nightingale.

Some lyrics are inaudible, but we forgive that because the performances being given are nothing short of fabulous. The performers are having the time of their lives, and this enjoyment is absorbing for the audience. It is refreshing to look around the room and see the spectators having so much fun.

George, played by Conor O’Kane, is playfully seductive in the song ‘Berlin’, and his luminous nature works well with Nicholas Coutu-Langmead’s portrayal of Frank, whose shy tendencies gives the character depth and warmth. The chemistry between the two actors is compelling to watch and I am captivated by the sexual tension conveyed. Tamar Broadbent playing the title character gives a perfect performance. Her comic timing is always correct; her voice is powerful, but also strong, soft and whimsical – it is fantastic to watch someone with such a range.

There is a definite charm to Miss Nightingale, and this comedy musical has a warm-hearted and tender love story undertone to it. The cast are extraordinary, the music is sublime, the buzzy atmosphere in the room is contagious, and I would argue that this is one of the finest pieces of musical theatre that I have ever seen.

Miss Nightingale runs through 20 May.

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