Edinburgh Fringe 2015
“In 1920s London, Gwen Farrar and Norah Blaney have an on and off stage partnership, singing popular love songs of the day to each other in West End revues and living together openly. At the same time Ella Shields’ music hall act is in decline. All the Nice Girls imagines her reaction to the younger pair as they live the starry life of bright young things. Does she envy their sexual freedom? Will their relationship survive the pressures of the age and the conflicting urges to marry and conform or to party wildly into oblivion?”
This is an hour of music that essentially tells the story of music hall with the story of the emergence of the right to same-sex marriage in our time. Behind the Lines are a pair of performers who re-animate before us the days of Music Hall and present the reality of life having to hide your real self from the public. The pain that emerges is constrasted with the boldness of performers such as Ella Shields. The two actor-singer-storytellers share an identity with that bigger history and share their enthusiasm with us in a warm homage to both those early heroes and the music of the day
All the Nice Girls is rooted in s bittersweet consideration of the suppression of lesbianism in the twentieth century. Part edutainment, part entertainment, the production is primarily a selective but informative “reveal” of how a vital sub-culture tried to cope and sometimes found creative ways to express its priceless and beautiful nature. It is all done in a very accessible, warm and entertaining way. Performers Alison Childs and Rosie Wakely are a confident, fluent pair and the rapport between them is a real asset to the production.
By weaving in songs, whose lyrics are both ironic and tragic in context, the show achieves a dramatic edge. We are given song sheets and I did sing along – but not with everything. In many parts of the show I was sat very still, beholding the musical action and listening intently – willing time to rush toward to a now where these two could express their love, openly and in freedom. These endearing two performers achieve that charmingly in an hour. Why did it take so long for history to make it a reality ?
This show isn’t trying to be too clever. We are offered relevant songs and some fairly unsubtle, overt narrative, mapping out the timeline of history. But It still emerges as clever – for good reasons – the music hall and the performers we think we all know – were also the stage in which other stories were played out – including a story of freedom, where gay could mean (and should mean) two things with equal warmth and freedom.
When nostalgia, pain and regret mix together, there’s a bittersweet brew. All the Nice Girls tends more towards the sweet but, when the pain comes, it is all the more tearful and moving for it. This isn’t a show that reeks of stagecraft. The balance of singing between the two performers is uneven, but in a way that serves the piece well. The music was never less than good and I wished for a live piano, even a small orchestra in the pit! This is a show that felt very intimate in the small Sweet Venues space (a converted hotel meeting room), but the show would really benefit from a larger venue – dare I suggest a cabaret space, or even a large music hall theatre…?
This show can and should grow and develop. The telling of the story can become more subtle, the script can refine. There’s scope for a bit more choreography and the possibilities of a larger theatre venue are there for the taking. But here, at the Fringe, in the chosen venue, it is a delightful hour, an informative and moving one. I’m glad I went and am more than happy to recommend it to you.