It’s 12 years since Gavin and Stacey’s Ruth Jones was last on stage. This play by William Gaminara, touring ahead of a West End run, has enticed her back.
The Nightingales is a chocolate box play populated by stock characters. A village a cappella choir that meets in the local town hall – five of them, two couples and an extra who’s having an affair with one of the others – is visited by a newcomer, Maggie. She’d been listening from outside and was drawn by the sweet sounds.
From there on in it’s the standard “is she all she seems?” And “will the choir ever be the same again?” thing.
The writing is so polished it shines, with every crafted quip, every storyline, every bit of tension introduced then held for just the right amount of time before being resolved. At the same time that precision makes it feel very by-numbers.
All those elements are visible miles off because they fit into the rhythm of a well constructed play. It’s like hearing a song you haven’t heard for ages. As each note is played you remember how it goes.
On one hand there’s something quite nice about this familiarity. It’s comfy and embracing. On the other hand it feels a bit too much like deja vu.
On top of that, precisely why Maggie does the things she does is not fully explored – she’s purely a plot device. But the role, weird as it is, brings out some good stuff from the very likeable Jones. She gives Maggie a depth that sustains the piece. She holds a careful balance between sweetness and light – a dotty, over-eager, oversharing and essentially benign newcomer – as well as hinting at darker facets of her character.
While not all the cast is as good – there are some flat performances – Jones gets good support from Sarah Earnshaw’s Connie, constantly bickering with her husband Ben and slowly becoming consumed by the slim possibility of fame from a talent contest they decide to enter.
One of the strongest aspects of Christopher Luscombe’s production is Jonathan Fensom’s village hall set. It is sharply observed down to the fire doors and the horrible colour scheme. Gaminara digs deep into the gap between knowing someone on the surface, just being friendly, and actually properly knowing them. The coin-toss of first impressions.
What’s not clear is whether the choir is meant to be as good as they think they are, or whether they’re deluded, and actually a bit rubbish. All the cast can sing but, like the production itself, while charming, the moments of perfect harmony are only fleeting.