Review: Miss Nightingale the Musical

On at The Vaults until 20th May 2017

Immediately upon walking into The Vaults at Waterloo, the dark atmosphere of London during the Second World War was intoxicating. From the choice of 1940’s inspired music coming over the PA system, to the chocolate rations and décor, every detail had been carefully chosen to immerse the audience in this time period, ready for a very different kind of show. Even the choice of venue lent itself to this theme, the infamous railway arches indicative of an underground air raid shelter. Attention to detail, such as the Health and Safety notice informing the audience of what they ought to do in the event of an an air raid during the performance, furthered this.
Despite a late start, the cast immediately brought the stage to life with a bang, starting with a jazzy re-imagining of the national anthem.

This was indicative of the show that was to follow. Part pure Musical Theatre, part cabaret, with influences of Vaudeville and music hall revue with hints of 1940’s close harmony, the audience were kept on their toes throughout.

While the music seemed on occasion superfluous to the plot, it was refreshing to see such serious themes highlighted, such as the illegality of homosexuality, in a manner that still managed to be buoyant and upbeat.

The cast themselves worked together to seamlessly deliver their story. Hints of Brecht fitted the time period of the piece, as characters changed items of costume, or switched between being instrumentalists or different characters within the narrative, which aided the cabaret style setting.  

While the plot was a little complex, the illicit romance between Sir Frank and George was an undeniably powerful focus. The constant threat of the danger that their love created was at once heartbreaking and daring. However, this was not the only issue that was highlighted. Maggie’s struggle as a single woman who was trying to support herself as an entertainer and stick to her convictions as a nurse demonstrated how hard the war was on women during a time when sexism was so engrained in society. This struggle was perfectly encapsulated both within the plotline and the music itself. This ensured that the audience paid attention to the messages that were being delivered.

The ending was surprising to me, as uplifting as it was, I felt that an opportunity to highlight the sad reality of so many people whose love was forbidden. Nonetheless, these characters got the happy ending that they deserved, and this in itself was fitting.

In essence, this was a complex piece of theatre that juggled lighthearted song, with serious theatre and a history lesson that displayed the complexity and struggles of forbidden love. We were entertained throughout by hilarious puns that were utterly bawdy and sheer filth. The cast acted as a team to deliver a powerful performance and it was clear that each member was vital; together they created a living piece of musical theatre that was refreshing and entirely unique in outlook and ethos.

Review (C) Natasha Elliot 2017

You can see Miss Nightingale The Musical at The Vaults (London) until 20th May 2017. Book now.

 Photo (C) Robert Workman

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