New Adventures in Matthew Bourne’s The Midnight Bell, York Theatre Royal’s Haunted Season, tonight at 7.30pm; tomorrow, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
THE last and only time the now knighted doyen of dandy dance Matthew Bourne was at York Theatre Royal, he vowed in a post-show Q&A that he would return, when possible, with another mid-scale touring show.
York had to wait 30 years for that first visit by the Londoner in March 2017, but this week his company is back, and so is Bourne, who agreed at short notice last night to do another question-and-answer session after tonight’s show. Do stay, o’ lucky ticket holder, because his words are as engrossing as his storytelling dance theatre shows.
After all, not a word is said in the world premiere of The Midnight Bell, but there is evocative 1930s’ music aplenty – dancers miming in character to the oh-so English Al Bowlly at the triple, Elisabeth Welch and Leslie A. “Hutch” Hutchinson’s male interpretation of George and Ira Gershwin’s The Man I Love – to complement Terry Davies’s nightlife score and Paul Groothuis’s superb sound design, ear-piercing tinnitus screeching, rain dancing on the roof, et al.
What’s more, inspired by the novels of Gaslight playwright Patrick Hamilton, Bourne’s storytelling through dance is so expressive that he creates a narrative language in visual form, where you find yourself drawn to each character’s path as seamlessly as that story moves from beautifully framed scene to beautifully framed scene on yet another wondrous set design by CharlesHutchPress’s favourite designer, Lez Brotherston, down to the ever-changing skyline that matches the mood of the scene.
Even the Magritte-style multitude of suspended window frames, the ever-populated bed and the pub bar move with the graceful swish of choreography, and there is wit too: a red telephone box is represented by only the Telephone neon sign and the top of the box; the phone itself is pulled discreetly from the jacket of waiter Bob (Paris Fitzpatrick).
As for Brotherston’s costume designs, there would surely be no Wintour of discontent from Dame Anna. Lines, contours, hats, correspondent brogues, here is such elegance to meet Bourne’s eloquence in sensuous movement.
Bizarrely, a notice by the box office carrying myriad warnings of what lay in store included the sight of underwear, to go with the tinnitus sound, flashing lights, haze, cigarettes (of the non-nicotine variety) and more besides involving strangulation. Bourne could be spotted removing it at the interval, unhappy with the wording.
Well, it made a change from all those Covid notices and “feel free to wear masks” requests that pretty much everybody seems to be feeling free to ignore in theatres.
As for being alarmed by exposure to “underwear”, where would that leave designers for dance companies galore, let alone pop ingenue videos?
Anyway, your reviewer digresses, dear reader. The Midnight Bell, set in the pub of that name, the surrounding bedsitland, rooms to rent, gated park, members-only club and cinema seats of London, is billed as a “dance exploration of intoxicated tales from darkest Soho, delving into the underbelly of early 1930s’ London life”.
Devised and directed by Bourne, he peoples the tavern with a lonely hearts’ club of drinkers and staff; troubled souls more at the unhappy hour, rather than happy hour, stage of intoxication.
All have a drink in one hand, slammed down on tables at the outset. All are looking for a refill as much of the heart as the glass, or at least some form of connection, but will they be sated or are they destined for the loneliness of the lovelorn?
What couplings will end up in that bed in cleverly overlapping storylines involving a young prostitute, Jenny (Bryony Wood), the waiter, the barmaid Ella (Bryony Harrison) and the oddball regular Mr Eccles (Reece Causton)?
Then there’s the bespectacled lonely spinster Miss Roach (Michela Meazza); the pickpocket cad Ernest Ralph Gorse (Glenn Graham); the out-of-work actress Netta Longdon (Daisy May Kemp), and the schizophrenic, tinnitus-troubled George Harvey Bone (thickly bearded, heavy-suited Richard Winsor).
The forbidden The Man I Love storyline entwines West End chorus boy Albert (Liam Mower) with new customer Frank (Andrew Monaghan), taking risks in that repressed era, captured in the Bourne’s best, serpentine choreography of another extraordinary show.
He calls these stories of requited and more often unrequited love in restlessly on-edge London “bitter comedies of longing, frustration, betrayal and redemption”. “Bitter comedies” is spot on, the humour being as dark as porter in this neon-lit world, but all life is here, sad, bad, mad, yet hopefully happy hereafter too, stamped with the exhilarating Bourne identity, panache and punch exercised in equal measure.