Nanny joins an ever growing list of fringe-style musicals that take a quirky and fun concept and injects them with catchy tunes, yet the difference here is that the show feels like it lacks the energy and personality to make what is supposed to be a 'fun' show entertaining. While this is a noble early attempt at a show, and Nanny would impress as a first draft, in its current state it needs work if it is wishing to go on its further life.
Think Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder or Operation Mincemeat; there's a current surge of silly, creative yet largely inconsequential musicals arriving on the theatre scene as of late, and Nanny brings the latest addition to the list. Describing itself as a 'comedy play with music' - in its current form, the show is neither much of a comedy, nor a play - the piece takes the intriguing concept of aspiring actors stuck in the job of Nannies, and attempts to bring it to life through a low budget, two actors, one musician and a brief runtime of 1 hour 15 minutes. It makes for a promising enough premise that leaves one hoping for a brighter future for the show, yet also feeling a sense of disinterest - a blow to a show marketing itself on its ability to entertain.
Firstly, it's not all a loss when it comes to Nanny: the show's score is a highlight, providing the needed energy and levity into the otherwise cold feelingbook. Very reminiscent of Kathy and Stella's score - no surprise with both being written by Matthew Floyd Jones - the songs within are no masterpieces or strokes of genius, but are pleasant enough and a vehicle for some strong performances.
Ramsey, Stables and Rainsford's lyrics are both hit and miss; some songs enjoy clever wordplay and wit, while others are subject to the most obvious rhymes possible. This is less of a problem, however, when paired with the rapid pace of the songs - their short and sweet nature makes missteps far more forgiving. While the piano accompaniment for these moments was serviceable, and one can appreciate the limited budget, the thin sound does limit the impact of the numbers adding to the nature of the show, yet the music did remain a gem within this mixed bag of a show.
Where the problem primarily lies, is the the show's writing by Ramsey and Stables; for a play that aims to be a 'comedy play', the book ought to be the shining quality. While in other genres a book could be more readily overlooked, in a comedy the lack of success in achieving humour becomes glaring: sadly in Nanny the laughs were few and far between. The situations in which the characters of Amy and Leanne find themselves in could easily be pushed to the point of absurdity to truly unlock strong comedy, yet the play seems content with settling for the mildest 'humph' every 2 minutes. What is left is a comedy without any strong humour - in other words, two actors messing about on a stage to little productive effect, something solidified with the shows closing remark in which the two actors dance about with mini baby-buggies: barely funny, leaving one to observe the faintly amusing scene with little more than an acknowledgement that it ought to be funny.
The second greatest problem lies within the show's characterisation: while Kathy and Stella was able to sell somewhat weak material through a lovable pair of endlessly entertaining lead performances, Nanny seeks a similar road to success, yet presents a pair of rather unlikeable and undeveloped characters. Neither protagonist is likeable - both are self centered and border the line of irritating - and while a nuanced characterisation shouldn't be overlooked, it feels like a misplaced choice here where the characters ought to be written to be as economical in delivering comedy as possible.
Left without charismatic and loveable leads, strong writing, or a particularly artistically fulfilling score, Nanny struggles to impress in this early iteration. Luckily it has an interesting enough premise to justify rewrites which could help breathe life into the show and transform it into an energetic and fun hit like its peers, however this is going to take some work if the creative team wish to avoid being the 'failure' they so chipperly sing about.
Nanny is playing at the Bristol Old Vic until the 10th February. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Lidia Crisafulli