Midnight Bell review: Matthew Bourne is at his best in the dark


atthew Bourne is Britain’s most accessible and family-friendly choreographer. But it is in the dark and shady recesses of his imagination that he comes to life. The nightmares of abandonment that threaten his Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, or the 60s power games of Play Without Words. His latest, The Midnight Bell, is a multi-faceted dance drama inspired by the novels of the somewhat neglected English writer Patrick Hamilton.

This 1930s London sits under a hazy sky. It’s gloriously atmospheric, with grimy windows, crude red neon lights, and cigarettes burning in the dark. Everyone is looking for a kiss, usually unfortunately. And everyone drinks, OMG how they drink – to endure, or forget, or find the courage to flirt. Goblets and toothed mugs are misted up with whiskey, and everyone is teetering on the border of the blotto, greeting each day with a square of stumbling hangovers.

The Midnight Bell is their local in Soho – you smell the sticky floor and the gin-soaked woodwork. This isn’t a fancy cocktail set – instead, brooding loners waste hours. Bourne teases four ill-begotten relationships from Hamilton’s Tales (including Slaves of Solitude and Hangover Square) and adds one of his own inventions. Each is built on deception and ready for deception.

Johan persson

Bourne’s veteran dancers are in superb shape like amorous barflies. Michela Meazza, with her endless tango legs, plays against the tide like Miss Roach, with tight lips and tweed, who gets mowed by a terminal block (Glenn Graham slips a pilfered five cents past her sock suspenders) . Liam Mower’s elegant boy chorus has a secret gay romance, all wandering hands and suspicious kisses on a park bench. The hottest of all, Richard Winsor is disheveled and tormented George Bone – kept hooked by Daisy May Kemp’s wasp siren, hollowed out by her contempt and mental illness.

Beyond the pub, Bourne takes us under the glitter ball to a dance hall and shows us the peculiar hell of standing in a Lyons Corner House. It also reveals desperate chambers where couples huddle together and back off. Through it all, Terry Davies’ music is sumptuous and strained like film music, cut to torchlight songs in a vintage recording, to which the characters lip-sync in a helpless confession.

Not all of the stories go as planned, and the dance is dexterous and busy, squirming in detail – a cloak shrugged from one shoulder, one hand slyly reaching for another. His characters may be falling apart, but Bourne’s storytelling is sure and gripping.

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