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Miss Nightingale the Musical, at The Vaults

SEEN is very much looking forward to seeing this show and had the opportunity to put some questions to the busy Toby Oliver and Matthew Bugg between rehearsals…

SEEN: The Vaults seems to be the perfect venue for the show! Were there any logistical problems in setting it actually underground?

Matthew Bugg: It really is and as soon as I saw a show there I knew it was just right for Miss Nightingale the musical, which is set in 1942 with much of the action taking place in a smoky, underground cabaret club in the heart of war-torn London. We’d had offers of more conventional West End venues but once my heart was set on The Vaults nowhere else seemed right for our London transfer.

Toby Oliver:
The amazing thing about The Vaults Theatre is that whilst it’s located in the railway tunnels underneath Waterloo Station it’s not actually underground! But it totally feels like a cross between a secret drinking den and an air-raid shelter. I love it and the show feels like it was made to be there. The great thing about our set, beautifully created by Carla Goodman, is that it was designed to fit in a huge variety of theatre spaces across the UK in which we’ve toured the show during the past six years, from pocket-handkerchief sized spaces like Leeds City Varieties to huge stages like the Theatre Royal Nottingham and the Sheffield Lyceum. It’s beautifully adaptable and the only challenge at The Vaults was finding a way to hang our huge ruched stage curtain in an arched tunnel!

S: The show has been in existence since 2011. How has it changed over the years?

MB: Almost beyond recognition! The heart of the story is still there but we have continually crafted away to make it the best possible experience for our audiences. We describe ourselves as artisan theatre producers because we are very much hands-on in our approach and Miss Nightingale is very much a project that has been led from the heart.

TO: The first production at the King’s Head Theatre was a chamber version of the show that had a reduced cast of three and ran at one and a half hours without an interval. It proved very popular and even became their best-selling late night show. But we always had plans to re-work parts of it and to develop it into a full-scale production with a full cast.

S: Are class and religion prominent features of the story?

TO: The show addressed prejudice in 1940s Britain – homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia, and issues of class – at a time when we were at war against the fascist Nazi regime who stood for these very things.

MB: Oh, that makes it sound very heavy going!

TO: Yes, I should add that it does this in a hugely entertaining way, with a gripping plot that has you on the edge-of-your-seat and some very, VERY, rude satirical songs! It really is a show that has you gasping one minute, roaring with laughter the next and then in tears.

MB: In other words: a great night out!

S: SEEN loves music hall songs! Are they ideal vehicles for subversion, do you think?

MB: So, do we! Why aren’t they more celebrated? And we love the pre-WW2 German satirical cabaret songs too. Miss Nightingale brings these two styles together – think Marie Lloyd and Gracie Fields meets Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.

TO: At a time when England still had very stringent censorship laws – overseen by the Lord Chamberlain – that dictated what could and couldn’t be presented on stage these songs were the key way to poke fun at power and subvert the status quo. So many of them are extremely rude and incredibly subversive and yet beautifully written and staged to get their meaning across, while at the same time appearing totally innocent and beyond reproach.

MB: Yes, and we have to remember that the recorded and published versions of the songs we know may have been self-censored or redacted, compared to what was actually staged away from the eyes of the Lord Chamberlain! Rather like the difference between current day comedians’ live shows and the toned-down TV versions of their acts.

S: You’re in London, you’ve given your publicist the slip… Where do you go?

I’d explore one or more of the amazing micro-breweries and sit working away on my laptop whilst enjoying a pint of artisan ale.

TO: I feel I should say something terribly debauched and exotic but in reality it would probably be to the nearest park for a walk with our sausage dog Lennie. Or somewhere quiet with a cuppa and a book from the growing reading pile on my bedside table!

Until 20th May 2017.

The Vaults Theatre
Launcelot Street


Photo: Joe Armitage