Matthew Bugg on the past, present and future of Miss Nightingale
What's Miss Nightingale about?
Miss Nightingale – the burlesque musical is about sex, scandal and showbiz in Second World War London. At heart, it's a love story set in the world of West End cabaret clubs and burlesque showgirls. And it's about what you show under the spotlight and what gets hidden in the shadows – but I don't want to tell you more in case I give too much away.
You describe it as "the burlesque musical". What does that mean?
Well, the term "burlesque" has been around in English since the late 17th century. It comes from the Italian "burla" – meaning joke. "Burlesque" literally means to parody, satirize or to send something up - often through innuendo and double entendre. People often think of burlesque as simply meaning stripping, because in post-war America that's what it pretty much became. But traditional burlesque is so much more than that. Many burlesque performers remain fully clothed for their entire act, even if that clothing is a bit revealing!
The important thing that distinguishes a burlesque performer from any other sort of variety act is that whoever they are – male or female, young or old – they undercut their own sexuality to get a laugh. Burlesque can be deeply political, satirical or just a bit of saucy fun, but the performer is always in control, which can be very empowering. I think that's why so many women (and gay men) adore burlesque.
So, is there any stripping in Miss Nightingale?
Well... when a stripper strips, it's all about the nudity. But when a burlesque artist performs a striptease it's less about the strip and more about the "tease". I can't say more than that... you'll have to come and see for yourself!
Has the show been performed before?
Yes, we first performed a shorter, studio theatre version of the show at the Lowry in Salford and the King's Head Theatre in London in early 2011.
How did that go?
It was an unbelievable success. Even better than we could ever have dreamed it would be. We sold out a week at the Lowry, even after they added extra seats for every performance and we broke all box office records for a late night show at the King's Head Theatre, where we ran for a month.
We got some fantastic reviews and even got coverage in the national press, which I never imagined would happen. But best of all audiences loved the show and we had a whale of a time doing it, although I have to say it was exhausting!
Are there any changes between this production and the last?
Yes, I reworked the show to make it bigger, bolder and with more burlesque. There are more songs, more drama and a lot more 1940s razzle-dazzle.
Last time we had so many constraints that we had to work around. We could only afford a very small band and a cast of three. And we only had a fortnight to rehearse which was not really enough – especially for a new show – and we had to make sure that the show lasted only an hour and a half so that London audiences could get the last tube home!
So I had to cut loads of text and songs which was a shame. On top of that, the stage at the King's Head is only about eight-foot high, so our set had to be tiny. And we had to take it down every night and put it up again in the ten minutes between the two evening performances! I don't quite know how we survived!
This time the conditions are much easier. We've been able to afford a bigger band and cast. There are no time constraints either so I've been able to rework the show, adding new characters and new songs.
Where are you touring to?
We opened in Ipswich at the New Wolsey Theatre at the beginning of May. We then tour nationally (including a week at the Leicester Square Theatre in London), finishing at the end of July.
Incidentally, our leading lady Amber Topaz is from Rotherham.
What are you going to do after the tour?
Have a well-earned rest! Then it's back to work, because we've had the offer of taking the show to the Edinburgh Festival, quite a lot of interest in touring the show again in the autumn and we've also had enquiries from across the pond about bringing the show to New York. All in all 2013 is looking to become a very, very busy year for Miss Nightingale – the burlesque musical!