Review: Miss Nightingale, Buxton

 

There is much to admire in “Miss Nightingale” – a wholey original musical – which concludes its fourth and final tour at Buxton Opera House. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, as they say.

The story is a simple one. Set in London during World War Two a young singer gets a break – partly as a result of her talent, partly because her songwriter has had a liaison with a wealthy producer. As her career develops so do her relationships with the three men in her life.

Maggie Brown (Clara Darcy) is given the more exciting stage name ‘Miss Nightingale’. Her songwriter is a Polish homosexual – George (Conor O’Kane) – who, he says, is genetically bound to be unhappy. Maggie – at the beginning of the piece – is having an affair with her unscrupulous manager Tom (Christopher Hogben). Sir Frank Worthington-Blythe (Nicholas Coutu-Langmead) is a theatrical producer who falls in love with George.

There is plenty of material here to make a story that holds the attention. Depending on your personal history hearing Tom scream “Jew boy” at George may be more shocking then the tender kisses between George and Frank. The saucy/lewd songs given to Miss Nightingale (one about trapping your pussy in the door, another about getting your sausage when you can) are also oddly disturbing.

It is the love stories, though, that are really at the heart of the show and the songs here are well-crafted and arranged, making good use of the small on-stage band. The cast of six plays all the music in an unobtrusive and sympathetic way. This is a good production; it is a small touring show and the set is necessarily simple but it does the job. The direction (Karen Simpson) is focussed and brings out the tensions and drama clearly. It may be that the large stage at the Opera House worked against this chamber-scaled piece.

The cast is uniformly strong: Clara Darcy – a northern lass here rather than a cockney as in earlier productions – moves easily from the vulgarity of some of her songs to the fragility of Maggie. Conor O’Kane is convincing as George – seemingly destined to be unhappy, forever in the wrong place (he yearns for pre-war Berlin).

The quiet star of “Miss Nightingale” is Matthew Bugg who wrote it, is the musical director and plays Harry (Maggie’s soldier brother). His production company – Mr Bugg Presents – is based in Sheffield and is working on two further musicals. Matthew is talented and industrious; he has a strong creative team around him. We should anticipate exciting times for Mr Bugg Presents. Meanwhile relish these final performances of “Miss Nightingale”.

Keith Savage

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