Touring until 27 November 2021 – reviewed at Curve, Leicester
A new piece from Matthew Bourne is always a talking point and a treat to get dance fans excited. I’ve been a fan for around a decade now, having seen several of his shows at Curve, and his latest venture, The Midnight Bell, proves that Bourne has lost none of his choreographic innovation, verve and heart that has made him a legend of the British theatre scene.
Bourne has teamed up with frequent collaborators, Terry Davis (composer), Lez Brotherston (design), and Paule Constable (Lighting), to put the New Adventures signature spin on working-class life in 1930s London. What may seem an incongruous source material, the novels of Patrick Hamilton, turns out to lend itself well to Bourne’s lyrical style.
Blending stories and characters from Hamilton’s oeuvre, the piece follows a disparate group of people as they traverse the streets and social mores of the Great Depression era. A young prostitute struggles with the affections of a fanciful bartender; a middle-aged spinster gets revenge on her cheating lover; an awkward marriage proposal unsettles the local barmaid – the place that links them all is The Midnight Bell pub, where lonely hearts congregate to drink away their sorrows.
There were some aspects of the plot that I found problematic, namely the resolution of the thread linking George, a schizophrenic, and flighty actress, Netta – the portrayal of mental health issues is not the most constructive – this seems to be a ‘Hangover’ (excuse the pun) from the source material. More successful is Bourne’s addition of a gay relationship between pub regular, Albert, and policeman, Frank. Bourne choreographs some beautiful pas de deux for them, in which the purity of feeling is pitted against the social attitudes of the time.
Brotherston’s set design conjures the pea-souper atmosphere of the smog-leaden, dingy streets of London; a world of mists, shadows and dark corners, the stage evokes a seductive seediness. Davis’s original score complements the setting without becoming a pastiche of the ‘olden days’. The music is strikingly modern in places, often accompanying the frenetic, hurly-burly of the ensemble set pieces, becoming thunderously percussive during the more dramatic scenes, and offering flashes of sumptuousness in the soaring strings that are suggestive of the high-romance films of the time. One of the most playful aspects of The Midnight Bell, is Davis’s frequent segueing into 1930’s popular music. Lip synced soundbites from classics by the Gershwins, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter transport us into the fantasies of the characters, creating ironic contrasts with the scenes playing out around them. It’s a lovely, knowing way to draw the disparities between art and reality.
The cast succeed in creating highly empathetic characters, and I found that I got sucked into their lives as the show progressed. Michela Meazza is particularly memorable as the brittle, lonely spinster, and the clandestine relationship between Albert and Frank is touchingly played out by Liam Mower and Andrew Monaghan. Bourne has assembled a tight ensemble in which every person gets their individual moment to shine, creating an intimacy that can sometimes be missed from his more large scale shows.
The Midnight Bell is well worth a visit for fans of Bourne’s work. There is much to entertain and enthral, namely Davis’s playful score, Brotherston’s evocative design and the exquisite performances from the New Adventures company. Bourne remains one of the most talented and intriguing theatre-makers and I am consistently in awe of his storytelling prowess.
‘@SirMattBourne has lost none of the choreographic innovation, verve & heart’ that’s made him a legend of British theatre, says @NoBillington after seeing @New_Adventures’ #TheMidnightBell at @CurveLeicester. #theatrereviews
The Midnight Bell tours the UK until 27th November. For all venues and dates please visit https://new-adventures.net/the-midnight-bell#overview
The cast of The Midnight Bell
Credit: Johan Persson