All The Nice Girls is a sweet, loving reminder of the golden age of music-hall, combining catchy songs, heart-melting performances and a mournful twist. Telling the tale of Gwen Farrar and Norah Blaney – two 1920s West End stars who could impersonate men on-stage, but never acknowledge their sexuality off it – it delivers a piquant back-story alongside plentiful feel-good, old-style entertainment.
The mood is set from the very first scene, which sees performer Ali Child and Rosie Wakley – in character as Farrar and Blaney – dress up as soldier and sailor for a First World War classic. From then on, the music-hall numbers are almost uninterrupted, ranging from the familiar Burlington Bertie (performed by Child with cheeky winsomeness) to a few I’d never heard before.
To our modern sensibilities, these songs may seem naive, relics of a less sophisticated age. But that’s all part of the fun – or at least, it is if you allow it to be. The story of Bashful Johnny, who gets into a terrible tangle by kissing a girl, won't win any awards for character development; yet when Wakley makes him such a loveable and engaging figure, it's impossible not to surrender to its charm.
And in a specific, rather clever way, All The Nice Girls is a product of our age. As Farrar and Blaney grow older, a slow-running countdown forms a recurring theme of the show; a measure of the years left till 2014, when – if only they'd lived long enough – they could finally have been married. It's the touch of sharpness needed to stop the sugar becoming saccharine, and it gives us something to celebrate, a reason to be telling this old tale here and now.
There are some lovely moments of rapport between Child and Wakley, and the pair elegantly capture the scandalously decadent world of 1920’s high society (a social circle from which Farrar and Blaney were essentially excluded). Later on, when the pair separate, the there are desperately heartbreaking solo turns. But the mood’s restored by an audience sing-along – when everyone present seemed delighted to do as the lyrics exhorted, and “harmonise in that good-old fashioned style”.
I did lose my way a couple of times as the storyline developed; character transitions aren’t always clear enough, though the crib sheet on the back of the programme makes it easier to follow who’s who. And I’m obliged to point out that Rosie Wakley is far more engaging and believable when she’s singing than when she’s delivering spoken lines. A few tweaks would allow Ali Child to carry more of the verbal narrative – so, play to your strengths, I say.
Ultimately, though, what matters most for All The Nice Girls isn’t the acting: it’s the nostalgic mood, and its sweetly heart-warming songs. It’s a perfectly loveable, perfectly delightful way to spend an hour, and it gives you a few things to think about too. If life at the Fringe is starting to weigh you down, then this is the perfect restorative.