The Nightingales/Malvern Theatres

EVERYTHING about this cosy little middle class club reeks of self-satisfaction and the smug knowledge that things will always be the same.

But all that’s about to change with the arrival of Maggie, the sudden parachuting of a stranger into their midst, an event that calls to mind J B Priestley’s An Inspector Calls.

But while Maggie is no conventional avenging angel, she certainly becomes the guilty conscience of the local a cappella group, a woman capable of deftly lifting stones and thereby revealing any number of grubby undersides.

Bit by bit, she cleverly manipulates and pushes them even further to the brink, by means of a mixture of utter plausibility and deceit. Before long it all gushes out… the adulterous affair, the deluded ambitions and the anger of the betrayed.

Ruth Jones as Maggie is so magnificently convincing as the cuckoo in the nest that you almost start to believe her lies. Even when she seems caught bang to rights over claims to be suffering from a serious illness, there is a lingering element of doubt.

Philip McGinley is depressingly familiar as Ben, the sort of loudmouth blokey-bloke so often found in any form of organised activity.

And you can’t help feeling sorry for Steven Pacey as the cuckolded husband held hostage by a plummeting sperm count, the reason why wife Diane (Mary Stockley) has taken Bruno (Stefan Adegbola) as a lover, who is only too willing to answer the call of her biological alarm clock.

Meanwhile, Connie (Sarah Earnshaw) entertains thoughts of future stardom for the group, anything to break free from boring Ben, whose ambitions start and end with a few cans watching the footie.

William Gaminara’s play is a sharply observed commentary on the human condition, the webs we weave, and our inherent resistance to face the consequences. It’s all there in this compelling piece.

The Nightingales runs until Saturday (December 8) and is well worth a visit.

John Phillpott