Live at the Midnight Bell
The Midnight Bell
Eden Court Theatre Inverness Nov 20th 2021
Oh my! Sometimes it is very difficult when attempting to write a review as to know where to begin. This brand new production by New Adventures, Sir Matthew Bourne’s innovative ballet / theatre company, came bearing a time travel ticket. We were whisked back roughly, I guess, to the very early 1930s and to the seedier side of a foggy Soho London and the titular grimy pub. For ten troubled characters, drawn from within the pages of writer Patrick Hamilton’s novels, there is no glamour and sophistication of the recent glorious roaring twenties. For them instead our principles are struggling with life, love and careers all most certainly in trouble or at the very least boring.
So our lost, desperately lonely waiter, barmaid, prostitute, spinster, cad, out of work actress, schizophrenic, West-End chorus boy, a regular customer and a new one conveyed their miserable existence through dance, silent acting and a bit of mime.
The music, mostly original by composer Terry Davies, augmented by a few select period gems e.g. The Man I Love, What Is This Thing Called Love, The Nearness Of You, Guilty and Maybe It’s Because I Love You Too Much emphasised the awfulness of the underbelly of the time period.
Set design was, as always by Lez Brotherston. It was almost cinematic in its ability to convey a redolent dark, grimy, gloriously atmospheric Soho through tacky red lights, cheap hotels, slums etc. You could almost stick to the beer stained floor and tables whilst the use of stage cigarettes brought even more misery to being in that pub. How very different from the clean air we enjoy in today’s pubs.
One point to note was that everyone drank in that period really heavily to try, unconsciously perhaps, to obliterate the reality of the drudgery of their lot and maybe summon some courage to flirt enough to garner some human contact even for a little while. A parallel might possibly be drawn between their lonely plight and the recent isolation felt so recently by many as a result of the pandemic. Glasses of beer, gin/vodka and whisky would appear to be consumed in huge quantities to the point of drunken collapse with more unfulfilled dreams of possibilities.
Matthew Bourne’s storytelling is, as always, brilliantly conveyed through movement bringing our principles to life by excellent dancers/actors. Their ability to convey emotion through a sly look, fluid movement of arms and legs is frankly captivating. You might be wondering if it is still possible to follow the individual stories. Yes it most certainly is. Even with all the multiple individual stories unfolding Matthew Bourne’s skill is being able to choreograph his cast in such a way as to clearly define those individual threads. This was a masterclass in movement story telling.
I feel it is unnecessary to single out individual dancers for particular praise, as this was very much an ensemble production. All ten deserved, and indeed received, the applause of the audience. However I felt that the “best” stories were those between the actress and the schizophrenic plus the illicit, and still criminal at the time, growing romantic homosexual relationship was portrayed excellently particularly so in the stronger second act.
The Midnight Bell provided high quality theatrical thought provoking story driven dance entertainment. Not the most comfortable or easiest subjects perhaps, dealing as it did with a dark and melancholic view into the lives of these ten unhappy characters lives, but sometimes we have to step outside our comfort zone. In Matthew Bourne we have the confidence that he will provide us was a truly remarkable experience but will bring us in for a safe landing when the trip is over.