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Sir Matthew Bourne's latest triumphant dance production The Midnight Bell is at Eden Court until Saturday – don't miss this special original show


By Margaret Chrystall

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What a tricky thing it is to find love, Sir Matthew Bourne’s stunning new dance production The Midnight Bell reminds you.

At Eden Court until its final performance here on Saturday night, it may well be the jewel in the crown of the series of big shows including musicals 9 To 5 and Chicago that the theatre’s CEO James Mackenzie-Blackman now ends up leaving us as his parting gift.

The Midnight Bell with Jenny (Bryony Harrison) and Bob (Paris Fitzpatrick). Picture: Johan Persson
The Midnight Bell with Jenny (Bryony Harrison) and Bob (Paris Fitzpatrick). Picture: Johan Persson

And, certainly, if you can drop into The Midnight Bell for an evening of inspired storytelling and world-class dancing from the New Adventures cast, do yourself a favour and book your seat to time travel back to 1930s London, courtesy of designer Lez Brotherston and the lighting and sound team.

The original score by Terry Davies takes you there too, and the intentionally slightly crackly sound wrapped around songs of the period, which literally puts words in the mouths of characters who lip synch to well-known popular songs such as The Man I Love by George and Ira Gershwin, The Nearness Of You by Hoagy Carmichael and Al Bowlly performing Irving Berlin’s Maybe It’s Because I Love You Too Much, among the chosen songs.

The clever stage set suggests a foggy street, a night-time version with lit windows, a lamppost, even the top of a telephone box. And we follow the lives of the 12 characters from The Midnight Bell pub itself to a dance hall, a cinema, a Lyons Corner House tea shop and a series of bedsits, as their stories play out.

From the books of Patrick Hamilton, such as Two Thousand Streets Under The Sky, and The Midnight Bell, and his portrayal of the lives of ordinary people, Sir Matthew Bourne was inspired to take some of the characters and bring them to life onstage.

We first meet impulsive barman Bob with all the restless energy of a young man looking for love, his dance moves whirling and effervescent as he imagines dancing with a partner, Paris Fitzgerald lip-synching to a song from the era, Man And His Dream, “You always stir my imagination, Sometimes it borders on fantasy … Night, a soft guitar, A hidden lane, a moon, And here and there a star, For a man and his dream.”

We see the stars and also it’s hard not to smile as the young man takes his pillow as his partner and dances himself to sleep and his dreams.

The object of his affections is Jenny Maple, a beautiful blonde (Bryony Harrison) who needs money, not a starry-eyed young lover …

Without giving too much away, there are many aspects of love played out over the show’s two acts through all the well-drawn characters – the hunger of a lonely spinster, Miss Roach ((Michela Meazza) for affection, the cynical exploiting by cad Ernest Ralph Gorse (Glenn Graham) of people for what he can steal, the attempt by schizophrenic George Harvey Bone (Richard Winsor) to win beautiful out of work actress Netta Longdon (Daisy May Kemp).

But perhaps the most poignant and difficult relationship is the one Sir Matthew Bourne has created rather than adapted from Patrick Hamilton, between chorus boy Albert and new customer to the Midnight Bell, Frank ­– a man with a secret.

This is still a time when gay relationships risk everything, and the choreography for the two men is tentative, building to sensuous yet often explosive duets. Yet one of the tenderest moments of the whole piece comes in the second act with the slightest but most significant of touches between the two.

The Midnight Bell makes epic encounters of these slightly shabby lives, spotlit by neon and stars.

This is probably one of the best new shows we have seen at Eden Court. MC

The Midnight Bell is at Eden Court on Saturday (Nov 20) at 2.30pm and at 7.30pm. More info: https://eden-court.co.uk/event/matthew-bournes-the-midnight-bell

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