Burlesque is more than bump and grind, says Sheffield writer of saucy musical

Matthew Bugg, writer of Miss Nightingale, in London's Theatreland
Matthew Bugg, writer of Miss Nightingale, in London's Theatreland
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Burlesque is not all bump and grind, says a Sheffielder who has written a burlesque musical that is coming on tour to Sheffield.

Matthew Bugg has just gone through the excitement of seeing his show, Miss Nightingale – the burlesque musical, play a week at the Leicester Square Theatre in London‘s West End. The London stint is part of a 12-week tour of 14 venues that comes to the Lyceum in Sheffield next week.

Miss Nightingale, featuring Amber Topaz

Miss Nightingale, featuring Amber Topaz

The show, starring Rotherham-born burlesque dancer Amber Topaz, is set in London in 1942. Her character Maggie is trying to break through to stardom, aided by her songwriter, George. He has problems of his own, living as a Jewish refugee and a gay man at a time when homosexuality was illegal.

Matthew, who wrote the show and is artistic director, said: “This is burlesque in the traditional sense. When people think about it, they think about the 1950s US bump and grind.

“The British tradition is more like music hall. It uses, innuendo, satire and parody, and the end of the pier kind of humour.”

Matthew said that the word comes from burla, the Italian word for joke. “Whatever else, it should be funny. It’s sexy because funny is sexy. That is a big difference to bump and grind.

“In proper burlesque, the performer always in control, so it’s totally different to what people perceive it as.

“Performers often intimidated the audience, Any performer, male or female, was totally in control of their own sexuality and at ease with their personality.

“They were happy presenting any number of different versions of themselves to the world – funny, sexy, ugly – every aspect of your personality.”

He added: “My big fascination is with gender politics. That’s what the piece is all about.

“In the true burlesque there is no stripping involved. That’s not what it is about. In the truest sense my piece is a truly political work about society and gender stereotypes. I think it’s a fascinating subject.

“In the middle of that you have a moving and touching love story about how you live your life with integrity. How you live your life the way you’re supposed to live your life, being honest and true to who you are.”

Matthew explained: “One of the reasons I wanted to write a musical is that I used to get quite frustrated in a lot of musicals. They don’t tackle the big issues. You have to leave your brain at the door when you buy a ticket.”

Matthew grew up in Oughtibridge and did all his music training with the Sheffield music service. He went away to university and moved back to Sheffield 10 years ago. He now lives in Hunters Bar.

He said: “Maggie, the main character, is also a Sheffield lass. She has lots of that strong northern woman humour. She gives us all a hard time, she does!”

This tour has been the culmination of 10 years’ hard work for Matthew to get his show on to the stage. To do that, he set up his own production company and did a smaller version of the show at the Lowry in Salford and the King’s Head pub theatre in London.

He said: “It’s been a very, very exciting opening for us, going from being a three-person cast to a full-scale touring production. That was a big achievement in a couple of years. It was down to grit, determination and tenacity, refusing to give up.

“We had no funding and it was just being dogged about the whole thing. Some people say I’m like a Yorkshire terrier, small and tenacious!

“We’ve had nine months of seven days a week, 14 hours a day minimum. I’ve done all the washing, ironing for the company, making and building the website – it’s very, very full on.”

Matthew says that several producers are interested in taking the piece back to the West End for a much longer run, then possibly taking it to the US. “That’s very exciting. I don’t yet know what’s going to happen, these are very early conversations.”

He says that the response to the show has made it all worthwhile.

“The audience response has been absolutely astonishing, more than you could possibly hope for. We’ve had hundreds of Facebook messages and Tweets.

“When you’ve got people saying the most wonderful things about your work and taking the trouble to tell you they like it, that’s quite overwhelming. I get quite emotional. That’s a lovely feeling.”

Miss Nightingale is at the Lyceum from next Thursday and Friday, July 18 and 19. Box office: 0114 249 6000 or go to www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk