by Matthew Bugg.
Tour to 27 July 2013.
Runs 2hr 45min One interval.
Review Timothy Ramsden 8 May at New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich.
Jewel of a performance in an uninvolving show.
During the dark days of wartime London a diminutive figure auditions in a club. Her naughty repertory focuses on genitalia, with fleet rhymes and mock-innocent delivery, suggesting some kind of female Max Miller. Then her style changes to parodying well-known performers. And the wraps come off in a series of body-revealing costumes that for the time was quite revealing.
Sex and sending-up are shared aspects of burlesque. Or the suggestion of sex. By the end, Miss Nightingale’s Noel Coward impression begins buttoned-up. Clearly that wasn’t going to remain the case, and an element of sexual travesty was par for the course. But the full strip that ensues – illegal for the time as it was anything but statuesque – is a rebellious outburst.
Amber Topaz doesn’t make Miss Nightingale sexy; she’s always vivacious young northerner Maggie Brown at heart, exuding good clean fun, and as the only woman in a male-run society is a good deed in a naughty, self-interested world.
Her songs are composed by the triple outsider known as George, a Polish Jew she’d help escape. Unknown to her, he’s also gay and had an affair with her brother. Then starts one with the aristocratic club-owner.
Which is where the trouble starts. Sir Frank gives George an expensive, inscribed cigarette-case, which is soon lifted from his jacket pocket and used for blackmail. It’s probably worth more than George’s other belongings combined and has sentimental value. Yet its theft isn’t noticed for days.
Peter Rowe’s production compounds a script which tends to circle round similar situations with little plot and no character development, by allowing a lot of open emotions in the acting. These inevitably wear thin, deprived of shading or complexities.
Even the songs occupy a limited range of expression, and lack distinctive melodies. Finally the main characters sing ‘Someone Else’s Song’ which holds-out hope of change from the undistinguishable numbers to date. But, that is the end to an evening made tolerable only by the sharp spirited Topaz, in song and speech a sort of English Edith Piaf: small, resilient, forceful and a delight to see and hear.
Maggie Brown/Miss Nightingale: Amber Topaz,
George Nowodny: Ilan Goodman.
Sir Frank Worthington-Blythe: Tomm Coles.
Harry Brown: Adam Langstaff.
Tom Fuller: Alex Tomkins.
Waiter/Stage Manager: Tobias Oliver.
Mac: Matthew Bugg.
Director: Peter Rowe.
Designer: Carla Goodman.
Lighting: David Phillips.
Sound: Simon Deacon.
Musical Director/Choreographer: Matthew Bugg.