Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Miss Nightingale

Matthew Bugg
The Lowry Studio, Salford
20 January 2011 to 22 January 2011

You cannot fault this miniature of musical theatre for its sense of ambition.

Parcelling up sex, scandal and showbusiness in 1940s London, between just three performers, was always going to be a tall order.

It’s all staged in wartime revue style, in the cabaret setting of this venue’s intimate 180-seat studio theatre, before it then transfers to London’s even cosier King’s Head Theatre, behind the famous Islington pub.

The show’s creator and director, Matthew Bugg, makes no apology for the story’s treatment of the gay relationship at the heart of the plot, and nor should he. It is dealt with in a restrained and yet totally convincing fashion.

Likewise the burgeoning clubland career of the burlesque artist Maggie Brown, the muse of the two male lovers, provides a strong linking story and gives the character some terrific musical numbers.

As Maggie, the vast experience of showgirl Amber Topaz (remember the name, it’s not difficult!) easily shines out in numbers like show opener Let Me Play On Your Pipe, This Can’t Be Love and Mr Follow Spot. The flame-haired Ms Topaz is also a feisty actress, with a demanding catalytic role between the male characters.

Likewise Richard Shelton makes a silky-smooth club owner and his own musical background as a crooner, who has reprised the role of Frank Sinatra on more than one occasion, is glossily showcased in the song Waiting. Ol’ Blue Eyes himself would have coveted the number. Ilan Goodman completes this tottering love triangle, as a Jewish songwriter, a character looking for a little more story development.

Indeed more than once you wish for the appearance on stage of several other key characters here mentioned only by name.

It is the scale of the undertaking, cramming a quart of music, character and story into a pint-pot of a production that leaves Miss Nightingale inevitably looking like a work in progress, albeit one that suggests Matthew Bugg has the talent and determination to do bigger things.

Reviewer: David Upton