The best thing about [the] sentimental comedy [And a Nightingale Sang …] by C P Taylor is the love affair it delineates between Helen, a lame girl who has been almost reconciled to the idea that love must pass her by, and Norman, a rather simple but quietly emotional bloke who is sensitive to the fact that Helen's nature has more beauty to it than one might glean from the outward show. This somewhat fraught relationship is sentimental, as I say, but it isn't sloppy…. [Even] when the agony is piled on with the revelation that Norman has a wife and child, the plucking of heartstrings is still carried out with the most delicate finesse….
Higher, however, than the eye of Hammerstein's elephant is 0the corn that grows elsewhere in the play. And a Nightingale Sang … is a thick slice of life on the domestic front in Newcastle-upon-Tyne during the years of the Second World War. To my mind it would have been shrewder of Taylor to throw the predicament of Helen and Norman into relief against a mere background of other characters, but as things stand we have five more figures cluttering the landscape quite prominently; and while I can see that they are intended to be lovable, as the evening wore on I came very near to hating them.
The real trials of the piece are Helen's father, mother and grandfather, all of them thoroughly credible and just as thoroughly dull…. The mother's role is most in need of pruning, although her heavily established and ardent Roman Catholicism pays off at length when it brings on a conflict of passing amusement because father has joined the Communist Party. Father has a saving grace as far as the play is concerned in that every now and then he sits down at the piano and bashes out, sometimes with a bit of singing thrown in, a smattering of nostalgic tunes of the period which help, along with numerous carefully observed details such as the rarity of bananas and the prevalence of spam sandwiches, to evoke the proper feeling of period. But there is little to be said, if anything, in grandfather's favour, and much to be regretted when he is involved in some really awful jokes about the odours emanating from a dead dog in a bag and a live cat in a basket.
The remaining two characters I thought a shade more tolerable, Helen's younger sister Joyce … and her soldier husband Eric …; especially Joyce, a fairly selfish but utterly understandable minx of the era,… [who goes] into a panic when she imagines herself pregnant (this is one of four false alarms in the play—a serio-comic device that ought to be used more sparingly) and fears that Eric, absent for the fighting, might well suspect, and with cause, that he is not the father.
So it goes on, mercifully with enough mileage for Helen and Norman who, by the end, have become completely endearing.
Gordon Gow, in a review of "And a Nightingale Sang …" (© copyright Gordon Gow 1979; reprinted with permission), in Plays and Players, Vol. 26, No. 11, August, 1979, p. 23.