Essential Review

This review has been conducted by a member of the Essential Suffolk team

Miss Nightingale

New Wolsey, Ipswich
until April 5th

Reviewer: Adrian Rawlinson


A DON'T Miss Night...

Reviewing a show for publication is still a comparatively new experience for me. In the past – before we re-launched our magazine and with it our new website – we would preview shows, letting our magazine readers know the best of what was coming to the county, and we would often attend productions but rarely would we publish our opinions, save for Twitter, on our enjoyment – or not.

So now, as we are able to regularly both preview and review, I feel I have had to adopt a new mind set when watching a production. If I am to share with our readers the nuances of production, performance and plot I thought that I’d need to retain a certain detachment however I have quickly discovered a flaw in my plan. What do I do when a production draws me in and entertains me so quickly that I forget I am meant to be detached? Well you are about to find out because that is what happened this evening.

My first impression – while still slightly detached – was how versatile the New Wolsey stage is.  Having recently watched a production with 20+ cast members using the full available depth Miss Nightingale, with a full cast of only 6 actor musicians,  creates an intimate stage setting which perfectly suits the cabaret style content of much of the performance.

The story is set in 1942 and follows three central characters. Maggie Brown (Jill Cardo), a talented but initially undiscovered singer, who will be re-invented as the eponymous Miss Nightingale. George Nowodry (Harry Waller), Maggie’s Polish Jewish song-writing partner who escaped to Britain in the 1930’s following the rise of the Nazi’s in Berlin and Sir Frank Worthington-Blyth (Tomm Coles). Sir Frank is a wealthy socialite that needs an act to launch his new nightclub and transforms Maggie into Miss Nightingale - the toast of London, he however harbours a secret that could mean social ruin or even prison if discovered.

Miss Nightingale is written by Matthew Bugg, who also appears in the show, and directed by the New Wolsey’s own Peter Rowe. In my opinion – and more importantly those who know a lot more, Matthew is an exceptional lyricist with a talent for writing great tunes. At times the evening was riotously funny with dry sharp wit and others touchingly poignant. In ‘Someone Else’s Song’ toward the end of the second act Jill, Harry and Tomm were all visibly ‘moist of eye’ when delivering this powerful piece. They were acting, those dabbing their eyes around me were not.

Very quickly I was drawn into caring about each of the main characters which was both a testament to the script and the ability of the actors. Tomm Coles seamlessly moved from confident impresario to a confused, conflicted and scared man driven to make choices against his will and was utterly believable throughout. Harry Waller was equally as assured in his performance. Ecstatically happy to hopelessly hurt. Cheeky, confident, at times torn, and with some of the best one liners in the show delivered with great timing.  The star of the show though was without doubt Jill Cardo.

This role called for her to adopt a series of personas throughout the evening as she delivered performances in the style of Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward, an RAF pilot in ‘Stand Up and Be Counted’ which was hilarious - plus many others. Jill’s physicality was impressive, her clowning adorable but her overall performance had me gripped from the start with her impeccable timing of lyrics, looks and pelvic thrusts!

The music in the show added a narrative dimension beyond sheer accompaniment. At times sparse with only a single ukulele and at times combative with Jill and Tomm in a compelling trumpet versus saxophone ‘duel’.  The ability of the actors to move between parts and different instruments never fails to impress at these New Wolsey shows but should I feel never go unmentioned.

The show does contain themes and scenes of a sexual nature but these are totally congruent with the story and in my opinion served only to draw you further into the lives of the characters.

The only downside for me of what was a superb evening was the final number which suffered a little by comparison with what had gone before. It was still a good song but I would have liked something akin to a reprise of ‘Stand up and be counted’. This is a very small tweak on a great production that I would urge you to see.


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