Miss Nightingale, which started out as a three-person chamber musical at The Lowry Studio and the King’s Head Theatre, has expanded and enjoyed five different UK tours over the last few years; it has now settled in to The Vaults Theatre beneath Waterloo Station for a run of several weeks. I actually saw it back in 2013 at the Leicester Square Theatre, and loved the show. I’m happy to report that it’s lost nothing in the intervening years: if anything, it’s grown in coherence and confidence.
Set during World War II, the show, written and composed by Matthew Bugg, follows Maggie Brown, a.k.a. Miss Nightingale, a talented songstress who works as a nurse by day and is a cabaret star by night. Maggie is played by Tamar Broadbent, a comedian who exudes down-to-earth warmth, charm, and Northern tenacity, and is an incredibly talented singer. She performs Miss Nightingale’s cabaret-style musical numbers with captivating flair: songs such as ‘Let Me Play Upon Your Pipe’, ‘The Sausage Song’ and ‘Stand Up and Be Counted’ are melodic and rather saucy.
Adding weight to the show is the exploration of the relationship between Maggie’s friend and songwriter George (Conor O’Kane) and her patron, nightclub owner Sir Frank Worthington-Blythe (Nicholas Coutu-Langmead). Their relationship is dealt with sensitively. Homosexuality and issues of class are not the only difficult issues that the musical tackles – George is a Polish Jew, with family in danger from the Nazis, and Maggie has her own problems to deal with in the forms of roguish boyfriend Tom (Niall Kerrigan). Outside of the music hall, the songs sung by the characters, such as ‘This Man of Mine’ and Someone Else’s Song’, are heartfelt and moving, another highlight being ‘Meine Liebe Berlin’, sung by George and reminiscent of the musical Cabaret. The cast (who also include Tobias Oliver and the clearly multi-talented writer and director, Matthew Bugg) play all their own instruments, and their performances are full of energy.
The creative team have taken great pains to ensure the World War II theme is evoked down to the slightest detail: even the programmes are in the form of ration books. The underground nature of the Vaults, with trains rumbling overhead, perfectly suits this cabaret-style show.