BWW Review: MISS NIGHTINGALE, Hippodrome Casino
Miss Nightingale manages to portray both the delicious naughtiness of 1940s wartime entertainment and the difficult and heart-breaking reality the performers lived off the stage equally well. Matthew Bugg's original musical has had a long journey to its current run at the Hippodrome Casino. This lovely piece produced by the husband-and-husband duo of the company Mr Buggs Presents offers something you don't find in the West End often enough: a beautiful gay love story set to charming music.
War hero Sir Frank Worthington-Blythe hires Maggie Brown, an aspiring star and feisty Northern girl, and her best friend George Nowodny, a songwriter and Polish Jewish refugee, to work in his new nightclub in London's West End. They decide on the stage name "Miss Nightingale", a reference to Maggie's daytime work as a nurse, and she quickly becomes the toast of the town as the main act at the Cockpit Club.
Meanwhile, Frank and George begin an illicit relationship, but Maggie's boyfriend Tom Connor soon begins to cause problems for the trio. The show cuts between the music hall numbers of the club and more dramatic 'backstage' scenes.
The show had its first run in 2011 at The Lowry Studio in Salford which was followed by five successful UK tours. Following a season at The Vaults in 2017, the show now appropriately resides at the Hippodrome Casino. It is the perfect venue for the show as the real audience easily doubles as the audience of the Cockpit Club.
The music is a mix of saucy innuendo-laden musical hall numbers, more traditional ballads, and songs influenced by the character George's Polish roots. Highlights include "Meine Liebe", a song George sings about his love for Berlin, and "This Man of Mine", a touching trio from the three leads. Club songs like "The Sausage Song" are seemingly made to draw laughs and blushes from the audience and they certainly succeed.
The small cast doubles as the musicians, with everyone playing multiple instruments. (I personally loved seeing the accordion included.) There is also some lovely dancing from tapping to clogging to more traditional theatre dance.
Lauren Chinery is wonderful as the plucky Maggie Brown and her alter ego Miss Nightingale. She shines in the cabaret style numbers, but brings a genuineness to her more emotional scenes as well. She also dealt with a prop breaking mid-number with remarkable good humour the night I saw the show.
Oliver Mawdsley finds a balance between Frank's sometimes inflated self-importance and his easy likability. His solo in Act I is easily a highlight of the piece and he makes it a joy to watch the character of Frank come to accept his love for George.
Matthew Floyd Jones is the standout performance of the show as the passionate George. I was impressed by how he kept up a Polish accent the entire show (though I can't speak to its authenticity). His wonderful acting in scenes about George's fears for what has happened to his family back home in Poland helped ground the piece in its wartime context and give it an additional emotional layer.
Adam Langstaff is a formidable villain as Tom, in addition to being rather good on the drums. The cast is rounded out by producers Tobias Oliver and Matthew Bugg standing in for various roles.
The design by Carla Goodman makes the most of a small set and the stage within the stage is a nice touch. Miss Nightingale's performance costumes are flashy and fun and the lighting contributes to the show well, designed by Craig Garratt and original lighting design by David Phillips.
Occasionally the pacing felt a bit slow and some of the music hall numbers felt overly provocative, simply for the sake of shock without the proper cleverness to back them up. These things aside, the show is still definitely worth checking out if only to be a part of the Cockpit Club yourself.
The best part of Miss Nightingale is getting to see a complex and nuanced gay relationship at the heart of an original British musical. With a talented cast, unique story, and fun music, the show is a great way to spend a night out in the theatre and travel back to 1942.
Photo Credit: Darren Bell