Behind the Line’s production of All the Nice Girls was a very charming show, with two great and charismatic leads in the shape of Ali Child and Rosie Wakley and fantastic songs with audience participation that tells the intriguing story of variety artists from a century ago to the time variety acts fell out of fashion around the 1940s.
It is shown mainly through the eyes of the lesbian singer and male impersonator Ella Shields, who was most renowned for the song “Burlington Bertie from Bow”, who recounts her life and career as well as those of her fellow Music Hall stars and other celebrities.
The songs included “Oh, It’s a Lovely War”, “What’ll I Do/All Alone”, “If I Had a Girl Like You”, “Masculine Women, Feminine Men”, “He Loves and She Loves”, and “Why Did I Kiss That Girl”.
The problem however, was a disjointed script that despite informing the audience of all of those once famous and queer stars dwelt more in the gossip of the time about them, rather than getting under the surface of their complex lives and their time in the spotlight (most notoriously West End, Broadway and Hollywood star Tallulah Bankhead). This left me wanting to learn more and knowing that the play should have provided more of that context to do so. I wanted the play to fill in at least some of the blanks about the likes of Gwen Farrar and Nora Blaney, Radclyffe Hall, Dolly Wilde, Joe Carstairs and yes, even the main figure in the piece, Ella Shields herself.
Furthermore, the script’s insistence on jumping back and forth through time to the present day at regular intervals I found to be grating, as it oddly undermined the events that were supposed to be unfolding chronologically in the past.
Overall, despite the flaws in the writing, the play was a very enjoyable piece on account of the spirited performances and the wonderful songs. I just wish that it had more meat on its bones; perhaps if there are further drafts of the script, the play might really fly as high as it needs to.
All the Nice Girls, is playing at Sweet Grassmarket (Venue 18) at 15:15 daily, until 29th August.