Review: Ruth Jones In The Nightingales, New Theatre, Cardiff
William Gaminara’s The Nightingales marks actress Ruth Jones much anticipated return to the world of theatre. Like all good situation comedy, The Nightingales has an identifiable scenario, a strong backbone of drama and several strong leading characters for the audience to identify with.
When Welsh-born Maggie arrives in a rural English village, she stumbles across a choir practicing acapella in the village hall. The choir, Connie, Ben, Diane and Bruno led by choirmaster Steven are soon encouraged by Maggie to enter for Talentfest, a potential route to TV’s Britain’s Got Talent.
Renaming themselves The Nightingales, relationships within the choir are quickly tested as the auditions draw closer, with life-changing consequences for all but not necessarily how everyone imagines.
The six characters of the piece are well fleshed out from the moment the play gets underway. Pen portraits via humorous monologues to the audience interspersed through the production help build on the characters personalities. This helps the audience form a bond with them, so much so, we can laugh, sympathise and even cry with the characters as individual situations unfold.
The Nightingales is notable for Ruth Jones’ first major stage role in 12 years. Anyone who follows Miss Jones work on television knows she has a keen eye for creating and developing memorable characters. Her portrayal of Maggie, a cheeky Welsh single-mother with a heart of gold and looking for a somewhere to belong is no exception. Everything about Maggie is real, including her flaws which become apparent as the story unfolds. Ruth Jones embraces the role with sensitivity and an understanding that anyone who knows a real “Maggie” may gain a little more understanding to her behaviour via this play.
Steven Pacey is choirmaster Steven. A man trying to hold together a marriage to his younger wife, Diane, a teaching career and trying to keep order within the choir. Pacey’s portrayal of the generally calm, articulate and reasonable Steven treats the audience to some flashes of frustration and inner strength as the character faces obstacles and overwhelming desperation.
Mary Stockley plays Steven’s wife, Diane. If anything, Diane’s character is the least straightforward of all, first impressions display her as a loyal, supportive wife, but as the story unfolds it’s apparent there is so much more going on. Miss Stockley’s portrayal keeps Diane very human and likable and as the curtain falls, it is probably her character that the audience will feel the most compassion for.
Sarah Earnshaw and Philip McGinley play Connie and Ben. The pairs contrasting relationship of star-struck wife and downtrodden husband plays to great effect throughout the show. Connie’s dissatisfaction of the choir’s direction and her husband becomes more explosive and hilarious as the show progresses. To a point her prejudices are comically displayed through an identifiable ignorance we all experience but are handled to perfection by Miss Earnshaw who frequently generates laughter from the audience. Connie’s fire is frequently dampened with Ben’s gentle humour and McGinley displays this with subtlety while gradually unfurling his characters own frustrations.
Last but certainly not least is Stefan Adegbola as Bruno, a teacher struggling caring for his ailing mother and finding some release in been the choir’s best vocalist. Adegbola allows Bruno to be likable and vulnerable, particularly in his quest to find love in the wrong places.
An extra bonus to The Nightingales is the productions occasional musical interludes from an acapella rendition of All I Have To Do Is Dream to a choreographed talent show disco rendition of You Raise Me Up. Sarah Earnshaw also gives a truly magical performance of Cry Me a River, displaying a more sensitive side to Connie.
Touching, funny and real, The Nightingales is a masterclass of modern-day situation comedy/drama featuring a magnificent ensemble cast. Catch it at Cardiff’s New Theatre where it plays until November 24, before heading out on a UK tour.