The Nightingales by the Lichfield Players
Lichfield Garrick Studio
Tuesday 16 July 2019
Review by Jono Oates
When I was growing up I used to love watching the variety shows on the TV that featured the comedy stars of the theatre from the 1940s and 1950s – Arthur Askey, Ted Ray, Max Bygraves, Bruce Forsyth and more. Their performances were funny, witty, gentle, engaging and quintessentially British. I was reminded of these qualities at the Garrick Studio last night at the performance of The Nightingales by the Lichfield Players.
The play is another from the fine British playwright, Peter Quilter, who also wrote Curtain Up which was performed by the Players in 2018.
The two plays feature a number of funny, oddball, quarreling, falling-out and then making-up, characters who find a way of making a success out of seemingly disastrous circumstances and leaving the audience feeling amused, content, entertained but also with something to ponder and reflect on as they make their way home.
Written in 2012 the play is set in 1950s and features The Nightingales, a family of show business performers. Jack is a cabaret star, never happier than playing the piano and smooching with the audience, where he is accompanied by the lovely Maggie, who is so unlucky in love that she very rarely makes it past date number three! Maggie often visits Jack at his bachelor pad to discuss the last show, or update him with her latest romantic disasters, where they are looked afterby Geraldine, Jack’s loyal and domestic goddess housekeeper. Maggie clearly has a soft spot for Jack which he, being a man, completely ignores and sees her as a work partner rather than a partner for life.
Jack is fairly content with life until one evening when his parents, Beatrice and Charlie descend on him. Jack is fooled in to letting his dotty parents come to stay with him ‘for a short while’ but when it turns out that their stay may turn out to be more of an annual vacation Jack begins to panic and tries to work out ways of returning the unwanted cuckoos back to their own nest!
But when one of his parents unexpectedly performs a midnight flit to embark on a romantic liaison on foreign shores Jack has got another problem to solve. Can Jack bring his parents back together again? And will Maggie finally get short (and long!) sighted Jack to recognise the true love that is right in front of his eyes?
This play is perfect for the very experienced cast and crew of the Lichfield Players, it is funny, gentle, heart-warming and nostalgic. You can settle in to your seat and let the play swell all around you, it’s a very comfortable and uplifting experience that they handle from start to finish in a polished and professional manner.
Andy Jones is fantastic as the put-upon reluctant host Jack. I’ve seen him in several similar roles and he plays the exasperated, vulnerable, frustrated, ‘please-just-leave-me-alone’ characters with sensitivity and great humour. Charlie is played by another experienced Player, Phil Shaw, who is great as the dotty, drink obsessed (every actor loves having a drink as he dolefully explains) father who was once a star of the Music Hall with his wife Beatrice (who he calls Beat). Strong support comes from Zoe Matthews as the devoted housekeeper Geraldine and Angelique Runnalls-Bould as the ditzy and glamorous Maggie who has her eyes firmly fixed on the unsuspecting Jack.
Maureen George as Charlie’s wife Beat is fantastic fun, from her first entrance disastrously, and unsuccessfully, manoeuvring a trunk case that is twice her size around the stage, to her Les Dawson-esque tinkling on the piano and her witty and waspish one-liners. It is a delightful performance and she does, as always, display humour, sadness, empathy, fun and longing with equal ease.
The play is directed by Barrie Atchison and he blends the mix of comedy, slapstick, laughter, pathos, sadness and tenderness with experience and assurance.
Produced by Kathy Bryers, the set design, costumes and feel of the stage are all in keeping with the 1950s era and, as usual, the intimate design of the Studio at the Garrick helps to make the audience feel an integral part of the performance.
I love these kinds of plays – gentle, heart-warming, filled with fantastic lines and daft, but believable, characters, plenty of laughs, but also very reassuring and with sentiments that you can think about and consider long after the performance. It is about comedic situations but it’s also about relationships, love and longing, health and wealth, growing old and growing apart, loving your parents but not wanting them to move in with you, wishing that things went back to how they used to be, the happiest days of our lives and will we ever see them again. It is a funny play but it also makes you think – and, for me, it made me want to go back and look at those old variety shows on TV and wish that I could see Messrs Forsyth, Bygraves, Ray and Askey tread the boards again.
The Nightingales by the Lichfield Players is on at the Garrick Studio Theatre until Saturday 20 July. Performances are at 7.45pm and there is a matinee at 2.30pm on Saturday 20. Ticket prices are £14.00 per person with student tickets at £12.00 and are available from the Garrick Box Office, ring 01543 412121 or via their website: www.lichfieldgarrick.com