Living near to Malvern Theatres is always a privilege. Sometimes though, the theatre in our little town really excels itself. This week, it plays host to The Nightingales starring Ruth Jones. We were there for opening night last night, and what a night it was.
The Nightingales by William Gaminara, directed by Christopher Luscombe
As we waited for the performance to start, my husband commented that the scene could be any village hall, anywhere in the country. That comforting familiarity of grey plastic chairs, a tatty piano in the corner and a scout banner above the door. We’ve all been there to a playgroup, community groups or a music rehearsal.
Ruth Jones entered the stage like an old friend sharing a secret. A glimpse into the mind of her character, Maggie, a mysterious newcomer to the area who found herself outside the village hall as an acapella singing group practiced. Drawn to the exquisite sound, she yearned to be on the inside.
Six cast members and one set portrayed a gentle yet somewhat dark comedy. A performance that drew the audience in, leading us into their world. A troubled marriage, a sordid affair and a tangled web of lies underpinned a seemingly light story.
Soon after Maggie’s appearance in the village, the group decide to enter a talent show. They know Maggie needs their help, but is it worth jeopardising their chances of winning? On the surface, she is accepted into the fold. But when she’s finally on the inside where she hoped to be, things start to unravel for Maggie. And it turns out she’s not the only one with a secret.
Cast of the Nightingales at Malvern Theatres
There’s a scene in The Nightingales where Ruth Jones’ character Maggie tries to work out why she recognises Connie, played by Sarah Earnshaw. There’s a suggestion it could be from television, film or a commercial. But it turns out Connie dropped a bottle of ketchup in Lidl when Maggie was at the checkout.
This misplaced acquaintance is the way many of us feel about Ruth Jones. She’s a household name, but if she popped round for a cuppa, you’d be forgiven for thinking she was your neighbour from up the road. Having been away from the theatre stage since 2006, Ruth Jones breezed in to capture Maggie’s character in her own inimitable way. We were all rooting for Maggie, even when it turned out everything wasn’t quite as it seemed.
Steven Pacey’s character Steven is a wannabe choirmaster who holds the group together musically. We’re not endeared to him initially, but his character grows with the story and he commands both empathy and respect by the end. Conversely his wife Diane, played by Mary Stockley, is portrayed as a beautiful and kindly individual. Along the way, hints are dropped that all is not quite as it seems. It soon becomes apparent that Diane and Bruno, played by Stefan Adegbola, have more in common than acapella.
The final two parts belong to Sarah Earnshaw as Connie and Philip McGinley as Ben. Their ongoing bickering hints at a rift between them. Towards the end though, we realise that this turbulent relationship is the rock that holds everyone together.
The Nightingales at Malvern Theatres: The verdict
Whilst watching a play in the West End or on Broadway has its appeal, there’s nothing quite like the feeling you get in a small, intimate theatre like Malvern. The stage is so close you could almost reach out and touch it. Every character seems to be addressing their lines to you individually so you become immersed in their lives.
The Nightingales is one of those plays that draws you in and holds your attention. You spend the interval wondering about a plot twist. Have you misjudged Maggie from the start or is it Steven who is making a terrible mistake? An emotional story with likeable characters, The Nightingales is punctuated with impressive singing, light-hearted comedy and a somewhat darker undercurrent. Well worth a watch.