TIME OUT: The stage Bugg bites...

IT has taken Sheffielder Matthew Bugg longer than the war his play is set against to get his début production on stage.

But the playwright agrees the timing is perhaps better for his musical Miss Nightingale, not least with the recent anniversary of The Blitz.

"It's purely by chance," admits the Hunters Bar writer, better used to working for major producers in the West End.

"I've not had a deadline but that's probably good for a first piece because I'm learning a new craft. I've spent all these years writing music and through the course of doing this I've got better.

"I've 12 years of writing for other people, but I've never written text.

"There was a point at which it became ready and then it's taken two years to actually get it on."

A tale celebrating love, scandals and show business in the 1940s, Matthew has honed a piece that marries emotionally-charged songs with Burlesque-style performance from a childhood friend.

Prior to leading the revival of burlesque, local lass Amber Topaz – who plays the role of Maggie aka Miss Nightingale - had forged a career in musical theatre, including Les Miserables.

"We were at dance school together from eight to 15," reveals Matthew who caught her by chance in her new guise during Rotherham Arts Festival. "I'd not seen her for 18 years and she was stunning. So we met afterwards and had a drink."

His original Miss Nightingale was Sara Poyzer, until she landed the lead in London's hit Mamma Mia, a show that has spawned Richard Sheldon, who does appear in Miss Nightgale. He also appeared in Ratpack Confidential and Emmerdale.

Ilan Goodman, son of Fiddler On The Roof star Henry, completes the cast.

"It started off as a one-man show set in the First World War. Now it is a three-person show set in the second.

"The whole thing has changed massively," says Matthew, who began his theatre training aged four after watching The Royal Ballet's Tales Of Beatrix Potter.

He learned violin and was on course to be a professional dancer until injuring his shoulder during a class.

During recovery he learned to compose and went on to study composition at university.

Matthew has since worked as musical director, composer and choreographer at theatres across the country and made his acting dbut in The Tempest.

His play tackles issues that are historic but increasingly relevant in modern times.

"One of the many things the piece deals with is a gay relationship in 1942, right in the middle of a war.

"They'd come out of a period of quite a lot of liberation in the '20s and '30s, both for gay men and women and women in general. But towards the end of the '30s there was a rise in repression.

"There's this view of the English fighting against repression and fascism and actually there was an awful lot happening in this country.

"In 1942 the Blitz had happened and you had blackouts which gave gay men this incredible freedom to have sexual encounters with people of all class.

"At the same time the political landscape was hardening and there was a classic case of 12 gay men arrested in Aberystwyth. They were charged and there was a huge outcry in the papers about gay men and how they were the enemy within because they could be blackmailed. That was the start of a gay repression that lasted up until the 1960s."

While we are talking about something that happened nearly 70 years ago, Matthew can see similarities forming now.

"We're in a very liberal period for politics but there are worrying things changing, not so much here but California with Proposition Eight, a clause where in 2008 they repealed the right of same sex couples to marry.

"In eastern Europe there's anti-gay marches.

"There's always a danger things could go back. So my piece is a call to arms, about how you live your life with integrity and how you make the choices you make based on the love you have for other people and also yourself."

Matthew plans to stage Miss Nightingale in Sheffield later this year but for now it is at The Lowry, Salford, from Thursday to Saturday, and London's Kings Heads Theatre, January 26-February 19.

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