BAFTA-winning actress and writer Ruth Jones returns to the stage after a 12-year absence in The Nightingales, which opened at Cardiff’s New Theatre tonight (November 19).
The star of TV’s Stella and Gavin and Stacey gets top billing, but this is very much an ensemble piece – with a talented cast of actor-singers as the small community acapella group happily (fairly happily) meeting for their weekly singing practice in the run-down Scout hall in a small Yorkshire town.
Things change when Maggie (Ruth Jones) knocks on the door one summer evening and introduces herself to the group. Before long she’s helping out, even joining in, and then encouraging them to enter a talent contest.
Her arrival acts as a catalyst for a whole series of events, which test the group’s relationships to breaking point.
I confess I had expected something much more bland – perhaps ‘struggling group is inspired by new arrival, grudgingly enters a contest, overcomes adversity to win, lessons are learned, everyone sings’!
But, thankfully, The Nightingales is a million miles from that: it’s a thought-provoking and enthralling exploration of community and how we treat outsiders, as we discover the stresses and strains of relationships between group members and the complex dynamics at play beneath the reassuring facade of their singing performances.
Steven Pacey, Stefan Adegbola, Sarah Earnshaw, Philip McGinley, and Mary Stockley are superb as these Nightingales – a convincingly varied assortment of characters (including two married couples) with some interesting backstories and very different reasons for belonging to the group.
And Ruth Jones makes an accomplished return, having focused on TV since her last stage performance in Educating Rita at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff in 2006.
Written by William Gaminara (who’s also an actor – he was Leo Dalton in Silent Witness for 11 years and is Dr Richard Locke in The Archers) and directed by RSC Associate Artist Christopher Luscombe, this is a super little drama, which delivers laughter, shocks and a few tears, as well as some beautifully performed songs.
The Nightingales plays at the New Theatre until Saturday (November 24). Tickets are available from the box office on 029 2087 8889 and newtheatrecardiff.co.uk.
Review by Andrew Weltch