The Nightingales, Bath Theatre Royal and touring

THE Nightingales is the new play that has tempted treasured television writer and actress Ruth Jones back onto the stage after 12 years. It opens in Bath before a national tour and a hoped-for West End transfer.

It is directed by the renowned Christopher Luscombe, and its credits include well-known producer Jenny Topper, working with Bath Theatre Royal.  The packed audience at Bath on its fifth night probably reflected the reputation of Gavin and Stacey co-creator and star Jones.

Set in a substantial village hall, it opens with Maggie (Jones) talking to the audience, looking back at the events that are going to unfold.  Are we going to see a new Calendar Girls or Stepping Out?

William Gaminara’s play, packed with ideas and issues, is never quite sure, and there’s a queasy voyeurism about it, as the story of a (very small) village singing group and their new “member” takes awkward shape.

The Nightingales, a scratch name chosen for the choir’s appearance in a live TV-style talent show, has the inescapable feeling that it was selected as a scratch title for the play, too.

It brings in all sorts of social, mental and physical health issues, as well as comedy. It is most effective looking at personal relationships.

Steven Pacey is a sensitive, tolerant and pedantic choirmaster with a fragile wife, Mary Stockley. Philip McGinley is the third rate former tennis star with a minorly talented wife with unreasonable aspirations, played by Sarah Earnshaw. Stefan Adegbola is a man trying to settle in alien surroundings.

Telling you anything about Maggie would require a spoiler alert.

The play needs six strong actors, five of whom need to be able to sing very well, and it certainly has them here. This production raises all sorts of questions, like why is there a piano on stage when it is never played?  I guess another cast member would be needed a la Stepping Out.

I can’t help feeling that it would be far more convincing as a one-hour radio or television play than an evening at the theatre.

Sorry to say it, I can see The Nightingales becoming a staple of the am dram scene, offering great roles to crossover singer-actors – but not on a London stage.


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