London, WC2H 7JH
Wow! This has been a week filled with some amazing nights at the theatre and Miss Nightingale was a perfect finish to a lovely week, before we fly out for a short break.
A casino isn't the first place you would think of as a site for an evening of entertainment (which did not include some fun at the tables). I had however been to this venue before for an excellent brunch and was quite excited when Joanne of Love Pop-Ups London mentioned the opportunity to review Miss Nightingale at the Casino Theatre.
Friends who had watched Miss Nightingale at the vaults last year, had really enjoyed it, but I had missed the opportunity given their short run and my over-full calendar.
We arrived at the Hippodrome. This time, I wasn't asked for my id (as this is a casino, it is one of the few places in the UK that does ask for id with age proof, so do remember to carry one). I guess I'm finally showing my age ;)
We headed up to the first floor, perusing the fascinating display cases of memorabilia from previous theatre performances at the venue.
We stood in line to get our wrist bands that would allow us entry and exit of the small theater. The tickets included a complimentary drink coupon. The drinks coupon was valid on some house wines, so the waitress was really surprised when 3 of us asked if we could use the coupon for a non-alcoholic beverage. She got permission to accept our coupons for sodas and orange juice and we were set.
This is a really small and intimate theatre. Seating for the show was arranged around 4 seats to a table. There were a few comfortable looking booths towards the rear. There are around 3 rows of tables, if you include the booths. We got a seat in the middle and this was the perfect distance to the stage. The whole seating arrangement fit in completely with the show which is set mostly in a nightclub.
The location and seats were good, the only criticism of the theater is that around half way through the play, it got really cold inside and we had to put our jackets back on and order hot coffee.
Miss Nightingale is set in an underground cabaret club in the heart of London in 1942. Maggie Brown, a nurse and aspiring singer and her best friend George Nowodny, a songwriter and Jewish refugee, become the headliners at 'The Cockpit', the newest night club in town, owned by wealthy socialite and RAF war-hero, Sir Frank Worthington-Blythe. Maggie’s married, black-marketeer beau Tom Connor, paves the way for ‘Miss Nightingale’ to be born, and the musical duo quickly find themselves with a West-End hit!
However, what the leading lady doesn’t know, is that George and Sir Frank are hiding a secret and as Miss Nightingale’s success grows, so does a forbidden love between the two men.
The play deals with so many pressing issues of that period. The rampant homophobia, where homosexuals were suspected of being spies simply because it was thought that their sexual preferences made them susceptible to be blackmailed by the enemy. Class differences, Jewish refugees, Unwed motherhood are all themes that are touched upon in this cabaret musical by Matthew Bugg.
The six member cast is multi-talented. They act, they dance, they sing, they play multiple musical instruments. They sing like angels... even though a lot of it is double entendre.
While Lauren Chinery plays the lead as Miss Nightingale (also playing the piano, clarinet, flute & saxophone), for me the star of the show was Matthew Floyd Jones who plays Jewish refugee George Nowodny. His role was more nuanced and his voice is sublime.
Oliver Mawdsley as RAF war-hero, Sir Frank Worthington-Blythe and Adam Langstaff as Maggie’s conniving beau Tom Connor are also excellent. Matthew Bugg has researched WWII era London extensively and it shows, in every setting and all the lyrics of Miss Nightingale from Meine Liebe Berlin to Stand Up & Be Counted. From Let Me Play on Your Pipe to You've Got to Get Your Sausage Where You Can.
The lyrics may be double entendre, but they are so much more than that. They convey the hardships of war time Britain, the deaths of young men at war, women being compelled to step out into the work space, but still expected to look beautiful and well made up all the time, the lack of basic provisions like tea and sugar that were considered luxuries and the black market that grew up to supply these and clothing items like nylons and silk.
Overall, Miss Nightingale was a much better experience than Chicago, which I watched on Monday. And, I FINALLY got to see some tap dancing!
Miss Nightingale is playing at Hippodrome Casino Theatre until 6th May. Tickets start at £22.50. I would definitely recommend this one.