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Miss Nightingale review at the Vaults, London – ‘decent songs, hackneyed dialogue’

Tamar Broadbent in Miss Nightingale at Vaults, London. Photo: Robert Workman Tamar Broadbent in Miss Nightingale at Vaults, London. Photo: Robert Workman
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Matthew Bugg’s wartime musical Miss Nightingale began life in 2011 as a chamber musical, with a run at the King’s Head and Lowry Studio. The first full-scale production took place two years later and after several subsequent UK tours and various re-writes, it now returns to London.

The best thing about earlier productions was Bugg’s pastiche music hall numbers and thankfully these survive, accompanied by a more satisfying vein of narrative songs, which move the story forwards.

The book however, remains the biggest problem. Bugg studiously avoids stereotypical characters, but the dialogue is dreadfully cliched. The illicit gay relationship that develops between the upper class war hero Frank and the Jewish refugee George lacks both sincerity and emotional clarity.

Miss Nightingale is a fun, feisty character but despite having all the best songs, including three drag king numbers, her journey is sidelined in favour the men.

Nicholas Coutu-Langmead and Conor O’Kane bring familiarity and a definite chemistry, reprising the roles of Frank and George. Comedian and songwriter Tamar Broadbent, is new to the show. A unique and undisputed talent in her own right, Broadbent seems wholly out of place in the title role here, struggling to pin down the accent and lacking direction in the more intimate scenes.

Bugg’s music and lyrics are strong but his direction lacks perspective. Designer Carla Goodman’s set reflects the austerity of the period and chimes with the Waterloo venue, but it’s one of the few authentic things in this production.

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Wartime musical that mixes decent songs with hackneyed dialogue