Posts Tagged ‘The Vaults’

Review – Miss Nightingale – Mr Bugg Presents at The Vaults (Waterloo)

April 9, 2017

The evening after I went to see Miss Nightingale, I was talking to a friend who works in burlesque. “I went to a show about queer love in World War II last night!” I told her. “It had boys kissing and saucy songs and everything! And it was set in a nightclub!” She was sold. And while there is much more to this show than my elevator speech contains, those few sentences capture much of what there is to love about the new musical that is Miss Nightingale. For those who won’t like its themes, well, they’ve probably already run off. But if you’re looking to make up your mind about whether or not to go, let me tell you more.

It’s the 1940s, in England. Injured air ace and war hero Sir Frank Worthington-Blythe (Nicholas Coutu-Langmead) has decided that running a nightclub would be just the thing. With rationing, there’s a lot of shady characters running around … including Tom (Niall Kerrigan), who’s sourcing booze from parts unknown. They meet to do a deal, and the mobster has his girlfriend Maggie (Tamar Broadbent) audition. Suddenly Sir Frank has found the entertainment for his venue … a blonde northern lass who works as a nurse by day and a singer of bawdy songs by night … a real (Florence) Nightingale. She gets her tunes from George (Conor O’Kane), a Polish pianist who … good heavens, does Sir Frank know him? And do they have the hots for each other? And are they going to somehow maneuveur the heavily mined waters of gay love during the era when it was a ticket to a jail sentence, not to mention social ostracism? Why yes they are … but not without a few spectacular crashes (and kisses) on the way.

Nicholas Coutu-Langmead & Conor O'Kane in Miss Nightingale Photo, Robert Workman

Nicholas Coutu-Langmead & Conor O’Kane in Miss Nightingale Photo, Robert Workman


Although the romance between Frank and George provides a nice structure for the show, most of the fun is actually in the scenes where Broadbent is front and center, entertaining the punters (both real and imaginary). Her sassy songs, about “shutting my pussy in the door,” “getting your sausage where you can” and other single-entendre subjects, provided lots of laughs and were even more fun done as a 1940s musical revue. But there was much more music than just that, as we had several songs developing Frank and George’s romance, providing character insights on Nightingale, and generally fleshing out the entire show as a musical. All of this was done with a live band on stage staffed by the various performers, whose skills include drumming, piano, triangle, ukelele, and a host of other instruments.

Miss Nightingale whoops it up for the troops Photo Robert Workman


There’s some tension introduced via…. wait, no, I’ll skip that spoiler! The various plot twists seemed a bit B-movie, but the theme (gay romance in WWII) and the decision to have a Northern girl as the big star won me over (even if Nightingale herself needed a bit more fleshing out). And it’s really a war story that I haven’t seen told before …. maybe the setting is forced or hard to believe, but given the attention that’s been paid to the fiftieth anniversary of the decision to decriminalize homosexuality in the UK, it feels like a story we’re all ready to hear. People in the 1940s were gay just like they are now, but the people who told stories back in the day didn’t talk about this. It’s time, and Miss Nightingale is a fun look back at what might have been as well as a reminder of what most certainly was. I suspect they’ll be finding more than just a few show biz types in their audience as it progresses; we do love us a good night out, after all.

(Miss Nightingale The Musical continues at The Vaults until May 20th. This review was for a performance that took place April 5th. Remember for this show the entrance is from a side street of Lower Marsh, so don’t get lost trying to access the normal tunnel like I did.)

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Mini-preview – Mimetic Festival – The Vaults (Waterloo)

November 19, 2014

On Monday night I was invited to a preview for the Mimetic Festival at The Vaults, the funky space on the train station side of the Waterloo graffiti tunnel. The event itself is a two week long festival of cabaret, puppetry, comedy, short plays, and what I’ll lump together as physical theater – more than I could do justice in a single review – as well as some workshops and scratch performances. The evening promised about eight performances, which I initially thought would go for the full length advertised in the program – but in fact most of them were about five to ten minutes, so easily within the attention span of a bunch of prosecco doused critics. If this sounds like you, this might be a really good festival for you to experience – none of the shows seem to be over an hour and the start times range from 18:00 to 22:00 – in one night you could easily fit in three shows. Mmm, tapas theater watching!

The night, like many a meal, was a mix of the good and the yawny with a bit of mediocre. Our drag queen mistress of ceremonies, Pi the Mime aka Seren Adieu, was lovely out of her whiteface and did a good job of keeping things moving while being saucy and keeping us involved. The first up was a bit from Familia de la Noche’s “The Greatest Liar in All the World,” which seemed a chaotic jumble that might have worked in the context of the longer piece it was meant to encapsulate (a sequel to Pinocchio) but which contained much of what I hate about both clowns and dancy performy art stuff all jammed together in an incoherent lump. Man. I could not make the Pinocchio connection at all even though I really wanted to. (November 18-22, 20:00)

More promising was the extremely bizarre Marion Deprez is Gorgeous. Now in a world where women are pretty uniformly taught to disparage themselves, it was interesting to see a performer appear on stage whose schtick was entirely based on body positivity, but I struggled with this for a variety of reasons. I didn’t agree that she was gorgeous; I actually found the preening (of her character) grating; and jokes about being able to distract men by being pretty served for me to further emphasize the fact that so many women are forced to feel inadquate because their accomplishments aren’t valued while their physical assets are. I think as a comedienne she was getting to some ugly, deeper truths about society, but if I was going with the show and being superficial, it wasn’t working for me. But I don’t go see comedy because, while I like a farce, I’m not really one for standup. (November 25-29, 20:20)

Fortunately as a followup we got the smashing brilliance of Holestar, “The Tranny with a Fanny,” whose single song cheered me up to no end. I think it was about being fabulous but also about sometimes being a head case, but it seemed both revelatory and glamorous with a heavy sprinkling of glitter. This was the one show I became convinced I really want to see but given she’s only on one night (November 19, 20:30), it’s just not possible. You have been warned.

Now, was a member of the Boris and Sergey puppeteer troupe really missing from the closing performance (“Preposterous Improvisation Experiment”) or was doing it solo (actually with three people) part of the improv? At any rate, the wild recreation of Kate Bush’s performance for “Wuthering Heights” had us all bowled over laughing. I’m not sure when I’ve got a 10PM slot free to see them but I have to say I’m tempted to see what I can squeeze in. (Nov 20-22 and 27-29, 22:00)

This left us with a bizarre dance routine in which Seren Adieu overperformed with backup dancers. We were quite warmed up and it was received well, and thus the evening came to an end! I’m sure overall there are a lot of shows worth seeing during Mimetic, so if you want to jam in three or four shows in one evening, you’ve found a festival that will serve what you’re looking for.

(The Mimetic festival continues through November 29th. There is no action on Sunday and Monday in the middle of the festival, which is sad for me as this would have been when I could go.)