Tag Archives: Lauren Chinery

The Biograph Girl – 3 Stars


The Biograph Girl

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 24th May 2018


“Occasional ripples stir up the action but the whole staging needs a good shake up”


Commissioned as part of the Finborough’s ‘Celebrating British Music Theatre’ series, “The Biograph Girl” is playing on the London stage for the first time since its 1980 premiere. With book and lyrics by Warner Brown and music by David Heneker (the composer of “Half A Sixpence”) it is a celebration of Hollywood’s glorious era of silent film, charting the fifteen years during which the industry transformed itself from its disreputable, ‘fleapit’ beginnings through to the birth of the first talking pictures and its glamorous multi-million dollar prime. In 1912, no self-respecting actor would appear in the “flickers”, as they were referred to, but by 1927, those same artistes, with the help of trail blazing moguls, laid the foundations of the movie business and launched the Hollywood star system.

The show is a nostalgic reminiscence of the silent movies, a tale of the heartbreaks and triumphs of the key players, concentrating on the flawed genius of director David Wark Griffith, along with Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish, both of them great silent film stars. Mary Pickford was known as ‘The Biograph Girl’ – after the studio – though this telling of the story fails to justify her having the titular role. This is very much Griffith’s story, played with a cool assurance by Jonathan Leinmuller. Sophie Linder-Lee’s Pickford, while emulating the original character, replaces her outward innocence with petulance which distances her from the audience’s sympathy. Instead Emily Langham quietly pulls focus with her sensitive portrayal of Lillian Gish – the ‘First Lady of American Cinema’.

The intimate space of the Finborough captures the ad hoc feel of early cinema where everything was done on a shoestring and sets were often cramped and improvised, and in this way the piece certainly lends itself to the confined dimensions of the theatre. The almost total lack of set however, whether a deliberate concept or one dictated by budget, strips the play of any sense of location. Likewise, Holly Hughes’ choreography abandons any perception of the period.

What does capture the moments of nostalgia and hold our attention is Warner Brown’s book and David Heneker’s music. The tunes are sophisticated yet still memorable. One particular highlight is Joshua C. Jackson’s heartfelt rendition of ‘Rivers of Blood’, a politically charged number that was cut from the original production. The cast deliver the ensemble numbers with a collective poise that emphasises Heneker’s skills as a composer, while Musical Director Harry Haden-Brown calmly navigates them through the score. Sometimes too calmly.

And there lies the problem with this production: there is no turbulence. Occasional ripples stir up the action but the whole staging needs a good shake up. Director Jenny Eastop has missed a whole bag of tricks and has merely delivered a monochrome product that should be fizzing with flashes of light and shade. It is a gift of a story, and a much more innovative staging is needed to do justice to this hugely talented cast too. The subject matter (and Heneker’s music) is too important. In his heyday, poetic beauty was something David Wark Griffith most wanted from the screen. He felt that the motion picture industry was losing sight of that, declaring later in his life: “We have taken beauty and exchanged it for stilted voices”. Eastop should take note.

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Lidia Crisafulli


The Biograph Girl

Finborough Theatre until 9th June


Previously reviewed at this venue
Booby’s Bay | ★★★★ | February 2018
Returning to Haifa | ★★★★ | March 2018
White Guy on the Bus | ★★★★ | March 2018


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com



Miss Nightingale – 4 Stars


Miss Nightingale

Hippodrome Casino

Reviewed – 23rd March 2018


“any shortfalls in the book are compensated for by the score and the sweeping enthusiasm of the actor musicians”


It is 1942 and life in London is a daily ordeal. Blackouts, bombs and The Blitz. Although Matthew Bugg’s musical, “Miss Nightingale”, is set among the hail of enemy bombs it actually concentrates more on the ‘enemy within’; a phrase coined to describe the plight of homosexuality at the time. In an atmospheric, and perhaps overpromising opening scene, two men share a cigarette and exchange sexual promises in the shadows. They, rather than the bombers overhead, are the target of the searchlights, and in a similar way Bugg has narrowed the focus to create a very human story in the heart of our war-torn capital.

Maggie Brown is a nurse and aspiring singer sharing a flat with George, her song writer and a Jewish refugee who still pines for the uninhibited world of 1920s Berlin. With unlikely swiftness they secure a gig at the newest nightclub in town, owned by the socialite Sir Frank Worthington-Blythe. Maggie’s beau Tom re-christens her ‘Miss Nightingale’ and the musical duo become a West End hit. But their success and happiness are threatened by secrets, blackmail, betrayal and forbidden love.

The programme cites Bugg as the writer, director, producer and he is also in the cast and plays piano, saxophone, violin, clarinet and double bass. Clearly it is a labour of love and with that comes the inevitable label of ‘vanity project’. It clearly isn’t, though, yet it could benefit from an outside eye, particularly as it has been doing the rounds for quite some time now. The story is thoroughly engaging but the dialogue frequently touches on cliché, and complexities of character are often lost in innuendo. But any shortfalls in the book are compensated for by the score and the sweeping enthusiasm of the actor musicians. Lauren Chinery, as the eponymous Miss Nightingale, is the show stealer; acting, singing, dancing and playing saxophone and clarinet in a blaze of a performance; all with a twinkle in her eye that tells the audience she is loving every minute. She is in great company too, with a close-knit quality to the cast that make this production a joy to watch. Matthew Floyd Jones, as her gay best friend George, gives a moving portrayal of a man struggling with illicit love, effortlessly slipping into song, particularly during solo numbers; ‘I’ll Sing For No One But Myself’ and ‘Mein Liebe Berlin’ which puts us right in the heart of the world of ‘Cabaret’.

Where the first act lacks any real sense of danger, the second act comes into its own and the slapstick gives way to the drama we have been waiting for, poignantly reminding us too of what it was like to be a gay man before the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Bugg excels at bringing these characters together with a cast that re-defines ‘triple threat’. When not in character each multi-instrumentalist cast member becomes part of the mini-orchestra.

This is ultimately an uplifting piece of musical theatre that boosts morale in the spirit of the time it is set. The underlying sub thread of the war-time narrative is that there’s nothing like the threat of death to make people determined to get the most out of life. Likewise, this show, that has supreme potential, still needs to navigate some of the obstacles that lie in the way of the long life it deserves. But I have little doubt that this particular cast, whose own morale needs little boosting, can help break the barriers.

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Darren Bell


Miss Nightingale

Hippodrome Casino until 6th May


Interview with Tamar Broadbent


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com