C(ecil) P(hillip) Taylor John Russell Taylor - Essay

John Russell Taylor

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In And a Nightingale Sang …] at least C. P. Taylor is seraphically free from any kind of message. Up to now he has frequently seemed to be a talent in search of just the right register: there has always been something likeable and warm and ideosyncratically human about his plays, but also something a bit muddly and lacking in focus. And a Nightingale Sang … has dispensed with the tentativeness: it strikes straight into its central matter and scarcely puts a foot wrong after. Mind you, it is not immediately apparent that it does so: at the outset it seems to be just a loosely connected series of sketches of life in Newcastle during the early days of the war and the Blitz. It has a narrator, a plain, slightly crippled girl,… who addresses us from stage in easily confiding tones, slipping smoothly in and out of the action—a bit like Forget-Me-Not-Lane, but less intricately organised. (p. 70)

[Before] we know it we are laughing…. But gradually things emerge. The father plays his piano and sings his silly songs and does a bit of light air-raid wardening; the mother babbles about her only half understood religion; the younger daughter vacillates for ever about whether she should marry her suitor before he goes off to the war (what if he doesn't come back? what, worse, if he does?); the grandfather shuffles from daughter to daughter and lodging to lodging, but always comes back with his horrible cat in a basket. There are running jokes, and tiny little notations of life which insensibly prepare us for a realisation that these are not just comic stereotypes, they are people who grow and change with time, more likeable and more dislikeable and anyway more complex than we ever imagined. And in the midst of it all the crippled sister gradually emerges as the central character. We follow the progress of her unlikely affair with a visiting soldier, and guess at its inevitable denouement. But nothing is forced, nothing is built up to a degree of drama that the fragile structure cannot stand. They live, and they survive. Everyone survives somehow. The world does not end with a bang or a whimper; it just keeps on keeping on. (pp. 70-1)

John Russell Taylor, in a review of "And a Nightingale Sang …," in Drama (reprinted by permission of the British Theatre Association), No. 134, Autumn, 1979, pp. 70-1.