It has been said that no other English author has written so accurately about sexual infatuation, embarrassment and self-illusion as Patrick Hamilton, a riveting dissector of English life up to and including the War.
Hamilton’s novels are the perfect stimulus for master storyteller Matthew Bourne’s new work ‘The Midnight Bell’, which explores the transfixing tales of Soho’s bleak, darker side. A nocturnal event that follows the story of the frequenters of the 1930’s public house in Fitzroyd Square. The characters are taken from Hamilton’s various literary works including 20,000 Streets Under the Sky; Hangover Street and the works Gas Light and Rope; which were successfully made into film. The characters are thrown together in one time and place with a few added new ‘Hamiltonian’ feeling individuals to complete the heady mix of 10 lonely souls whose lives entwine in every sense of the word as they search for human connection. Bourne states the characters in Hamilton’s novels feel like real people not draped in glamourous silk dresses, drinking cocktails like the 20’s/30’s of Noel Cowards depiction and this is the allure for Bourne, as he ensures that the Hamilton characters have an untainted voice of reality. As their stories unfold, we join them collectively and individually in their human emotions of joy, despair and desperation; never through rose tinted glasses; until their climatic conclusion.
The Tony and Olivier winning creative team of Lez Brotherston, Terry Davies, Paule Constable and Paul Groothius again join Bourne and the set is glorious with flying windows and telephone boxes leaving the stage open for the dancers to fully explore. The mood created by lighting and the authentic 1930’s soundtrack of original and new music transports the audience into the complex, heady underbelly of Soho. Following on from Bourne’s previous work Car Men, Cinderella, The Red Shoes and Swan Lake this new work does not disappoint. Astute as ever in his eye for period detail The Midnight Bell uses the lines within Hamilton’s novels as a starting point to create the originally organic movement that entwines character and plot.
Ten dancers create the lives and loves of the characters who gather in the Midnight Bell for company and solace searching for human connection. From Spinster to Con man, bar maid to prostitute, homosexuality to infatuation the lives and requited needs of each character is laid bare as they search for connection with someone who has a different idea of love. Dancers/artistes Michela Meazza, Reece Causton, Paris Fitzpatrick, Glenn Graham, Bryony Harrison, Kate Lyons, Andrew Monaghan, Christopher Thomas, Richard Winsor and Bryony Wood all need individual mention, all so intricate yet so individual. Watch out for the Telephone box number and the work between the homosexual pairing and the conman and the spinster – simply exquisite. We really will find it difficult to have a favourite, the work as should be is so strong in its detached unison.
The Midnight Bell is a spectacle to behold, full of passion, infatuation, lust, betrayal and bleak human desperation. The audience were enthralled with every physical contact between the characters and as the storytelling reached its heart wrenching conclusion there was nothing but awe and admiration for the cast and creatives of The Midnight Bell. A production well worth witnessing to see a master storyteller, talented dancers and a totally in tune creative team produce something special – spell binding and totally immersive. One not to be missed!
The Midnight Bell is at the Sheffield Lyceum until Saturday 25th September 2021. https://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/events/matthew-bournes-the-midnight-bell
Reviewed by Tracey Bell
Reviewed: 21st September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★