At the sight of Matthew’s Bourne’s name in the Oxford Playhouse programme expectations were already high – he and his New Adventures dance company have built up an incredibly strong repertoire (if you think you don’t know his work you’ll recognise Bourne’s iconic male swans from the finale of the film Billy Elliot). Added to this I was already a fan of Patrick Hamilton’s Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky – one of the main sources of inspiration for The Midnight Bell. I am delighted to say that last night’s performance exceeded those high expectations, and had me dancing all the way home.
I was instantly drawn into the world of The Midnight Bell by Lez Brotherston’s fantastic set designs – even before the performance began. As a former Londoner, that combination of tall sash windows, silhouetted chimneys and Victorian pub architecture all shrouded in fog and gloom placed me right there, both in my imagined version of Hamilton’s 1930s London and the faded traces of that world which you can still find if you wander off-piste in a few neglected corners of the West End.
The show begins with a little dose of the hope which draws so many people to
Each character has their own story, and each defies the stereotype of that character. The ‘lonely spinster’, Miss Roach, is full of desire, even when it is clear that Gorse, the cad, is as shifty as he is charming. Jenny, the young prostitute, is not looking to be ‘saved’. Chorus boy Albert is able to express his sexuality with a sense of being at ease in himself. This gives the dancers an amazing amount of scope to explore their characters’ nuanced feelings – creating a mosaic of movement which is utterly mesmerising.
The first half perfectly captures the feelings of heady freedom that come from this lifestyle – freedom to choose who to love and how to love. Freedom to enjoy
Although the world of The Midnight Bell is grimy and gloomy, the overall production is absolutely gorgeous. Every costume is exquisite. Paule Constable’s lighting design perfectly evokes the setting whilst also deftly shifting your focus. I loved Paul Groothuis’ sound design – the pigeons, dogs and bells working beautifully with Terry Davies’ score. With an ensemble cast of this quality it is easy to almost treat the dancers’ excellence as an unsaid given – but it really does need stating plainly, the cast of The Midnight Bell dance with wonderful presence, poise and perfection, and their acting is sublime.
In a sense, every aspect of this show is part of the dance – and it mirrors the dance of ordinary life, the lines we all follow in and out of each other’s orbits. Brilliant, life-enriching and original, if you can take a seat at The Midnight Bell I highly recommend it.