Seedy, furtive, yearning. Matthew Bourne’s new work weaves through the Soho of the 1930s. Out-of-work actors and cads rub shoulders with tweedy spinsters, all dreaming of love or escape or the next drink. Taking its characters from the novels of Patrick Hamilton, it’s a world of down-at-heel glamour and terrible life choices.
In some ways, it’s a return to Bourne’s roots, to smaller-scale works dissecting British attitudes to class and sex. He’s had worldwide success with big-name narratives, adapting and reinventing tales from Swan Lake with male swans to Cinderella in the Blitz. The Midnight Bell is all Bourne, drawing on Hamilton but developing his own story – his first since the wonderful Play Without Words in 2002. Once again, it shows his gift for the drama of everyday gesture, revealing hope and repression through the way his characters move.
The Midnight Bell is the pub where the characters meet. Lez Brotherston’s fluid designs whisk us through London. A foggy skyline and grubby Georgian windows evoke the narrow alleys and boarding houses of Fitzrovia. The costumes are pitch perfect, from the barmaid’s demurely cut dress to the actor’s wide slacks and jaunty beret. The music mixes a new jazz score by Terry Davies with snatches of period song, allowing the characters to open up, revealing their fantasies as they lip-sync and dream.
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