NIGHTINGALES SING AT THE ARTS THEATRE
Choral groups have caught on in Britain like never before. Fuelled by TV’s Gareth Malone and his exhaustingly competitive candidates – rehearsed to the point of mania for a place in the finals, songsters now arrive thick and fast at every kind of musical celebration. It is a set-up rife for drama – a group of strangers keen for recognition, contains its own potential for a dark dynamic.
Always a well trodden path to theatre success - the play within a play, or performance inside a show has all the ingredients for intrigue. Keen amateurs with stars in their eyes have been delightful fodder for humour and tension from 42nd Street through Guys and Dolls to Stepping Out - the ‘let’s put the show on right here in the barn’ energy – with promise of heady success - and potential for heartbreak - guarantees box office ratings.
Actor playwright William Gaminara’s ‘The Nightingales’ sits firmly in this tradition. Four ambitious types and their seriously musical leader Steven believe they ‘simply sing for pleasure’. Of course they don’t. There is Connie, convincing – and funny - played by Sarah Earnshaw. Once a model ( ‘I was a Bond Girl – well I was once in a scene with Piers Brosnan’) she finds herself married ( he spotted her bottom on an ad hoarding) to Philip McGinley’s wisecracking cynical Ben, an ex -tennis player whose Wimbledon hopes have long faded and whose sport is now making fun of his airhead wife . It is in fact Connie/Sarah who keeps the musical skills high, her singing is tremendous.
Stefan Adegbola takes a subtle role as Bruno, a relaxed middle class black teacher with a beautiful tenor voice - ‘When I moved here and went out for a run, I returned to find a Police helicopter over my house – called out by concerned neighbours’. Steven’s (second) wife is Diane, given full and convincing range by Mary Stockely – beautiful but fragile, her carapace of contentment is soon to crack.
Into their musical world (a disarmingly realistic Church Hall) bustles Maggie, played by Ruth Jones, famously the star of Gavin and Stacey.
Maggie is personality plus, a fast talking Welsh woman who warms the hearts of everyone who meets her. At first. After she stumbles into a choir rehearsal she joins the group “you’re the fifth Beatle’ they tell her and include her in their bid to win a ‘Britain’s Got Talent’-style competition.
Whilst the other choir members fragment into illicit love affairs, and fractious rivalry, the charismatic Maggie maintains a good-hearted earthiness, forever whisking out home made cakes and obligingly applauding the group efforts. She is not however all she seems. Maggie has her own secrets.
Gradually they unravel with the inevitable dénouement. In the sing-off in Leeds things go disastrously wrong and the sad post mortem exposes all their wrecked hopes and dreams – as well as Maggie’s secrets.
It ‘s not a surprise to learn that the author is himself a member of ‘The Archers’ cast. There is a compressed episodic feel to events in the play – enough in there to warrant a series . The humour is often superb (the discussion about the nature of sperm surviving in the swimming pool of life “it sounds more like a Para –Olympic event” ) sits somehow awkwardly alongside the serious theme of breast cancer survival and the two tropes never quite come together satisfactorily .
In spite of this, the sharp contemporary dialogue that cracks along at a tremendous pace – and the experienced acting – and singing – make it an intriguing play for today.