The Midnight Bell, Matthew Bourne’s latest New Adventures production, presents a cast of ten characters and their personal tragedies.  Inspired by Patrick Hamilton’s novels, and set in a seedy 1930s pub and its environs, the music, designs and choreography capture a mood of gloom and desolation, punctuated by moments of humour and occasional happiness.  Bourne uses movement and dance to reveal the tension between the inner and outer lives of his characters.  Each has their own way of standing, sitting and walking, and there are continual shifts between external reality and inner fantasy, revealing a complex web of social and sexual relationships.  Amusing, touching, enraging and pathetic by turns, the six intersecting narrative plots gradually drew me in:  I felt like cheering when Miss Roach (played Michela Meazza), bound the wrists of the cad Ernest Ralph Gorse (Glenn Graham) to the bedstead in a down-at-heel hotel with his own tie, leaving him helpless and ridiculous with his trousers around his ankles.  Bryony Harrison gave a moving performance as Ella, a barmaid, who initially accepts a proposal of marriage, to social approbation, and then withdraws because she loves Bob, the waiter (Paris Fitzpatrick).  Bob, meanwhile, is infatuated with sex worker Jenny Maple (played by Bryony Wood), who touts for business under a lamp post.

The action begins a little slowly, as the characters are introduced, but the drama builds thoughout, and we share the shock when Albert (played by Liam Mower) realises that Frank (Andrew Monaghan), with whom he has had a homosexual encounter, is a policeman.  Likewise, we feel relief when the schizophrenic, played by Richard Winsor, discovers that he has not in fact strangled the actress (Daisy May Kemp) in a psychotic episode, and she is perfectly all right.

Lez Brotherston’s spectacular sets evoke the dingy poverty of a 1930s working-class area of London, offset by the changing colours of the skyline and the gorgeous pink and green of Jenny Maple’s costume.  Terry Davies’ original score ingeniously integrates the 1930s songs that the dancers lip-synch, the words confirming what their movement and dance already expresses.  Matthew Bourne’s work always excites and entertains; I found this to be his most interesting work since Play Without Words.  There are still chances to see it on tour in November

Maggie Watson

31st October 2021