The setting is a church hall for William Gaminara’s witty new comedy The Nightingales, on tour before coming in to the West End. Gaminara has taken the concept of a local acapella group at their weekly rehearsal in said church hall. Despite a few missed chords and the like the group, under the direction of their Cambridge educated choirmaster Steven (played with empathy by Steven Pacey), the four singers who make up the group get on fine – until one day a newcomer, Maggie (Ruth Jones) arrives.
The role makes a welcome return to the stage for multi-talented Welsh actress Ruth Jones, who in 2014 was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours list for her services to entertainment. The role of Maggie who upsets the apple cart in more ways than one, is perfect for Jones, best known for playing Nessa in the popular BBC TV comedy Gavin and Stacey, Jones engages with the audience from the moment she arrives on stage; her timing is spot-on. At first garrulous but otherwise harmless, before long Maggie’s arrival puts the cat among the pigeons, proving to be the catalyst which results in the layers being peeled back to reveal what lies beneath the surface bonhomie.
This is particularly applicable to the relationship between the scholarly choirmaster and his wife Diane, played appealingly by Mary Stockley, while the other female in the group, Connie (Sarah Earnshaw) has aspirations to hit the celebrity spotlight. Earnshaw’s characterisation is good, but her voice a tad shrill at times. Completing the Capella group are the two male singers: Connie’s husband Ben (Philip McGinley) a down to earth sort of bloke with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, contrasting with the charismatic and sexy Bruno – a great performance by the likeable Stefan Adegbola .
Peppered with bon mots and clever ripostes, Gaminara’s slick dialogue, on opening night in Cardiff, rained down upon a packed and eager audience, appearing at times somewhat laboured, at others too fast for all the jokes to be appreciated. There was also occasionally a need for a couple of the cast to guard against turning their backs to the audience, or at least to speak more clearly when doing so. Having said that, in this co-production by Jenny Topper and Theatre Royal Bath, director Christopher Luscombe has handled Gaminara’s concept cleverly, grabbing the flavour and that unique smell of the village hall – at atmospheric set by Jonathan Fensom – to the extent that one can almost smell the dusty floorboards.
Some of the best moments are – perhaps not surprisingly – the songs, notably George and Ira Gershwin’s Someone to Watch Over Me, raising a tear among the laughs, as is so often the case with good comedy. Which brings us to the question: although billed as comedy, as the play progresses into the second half and home truths are revealed we see behind the masks to the sadness – so true to life.
And therein lies the skill in this play by actor-playwright Gaminara.
Runs until Saturday 24th November at New Theatre, Cardiff.
Worth a mention are the programme notes which include several highly amusing cartoons relevant to a play about a village choir,
Playwright: William Gaminara
Director: Christopher Luscombe
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels