Review: The Midnight Bell

The Midnight Bell Matthew Bourne. Photograph: Johan Persson
Date: 21/10/2021

Set somewhere amongst the bustling and lively pub scene of 1930s London, the heartbroken and the intoxicated spend the night dancing in Matthew Bourne’s drunken ballet: The Midnight Bell.

Many stories unfold across the evening, night and morning after in the world of The Midnight Bell. Stories of prostitution and unrequited love. Stories of sexuality and ambivalence in the face of the coming day’s hangover.

Of the many things that The Midnight Bell is, the most surprising is… funny. Throughout the performance I was not only moved, but also and brought to laughter by the effortless movements of the cast. People get rejected by their loves in the most physical and flamboyant ways. They’re literally and figuratively carried away and pushed aside by the people they’re attempting to woo.

There are some very touching moments throughout the performance as well. The subtle, tender relationship between two gay men that cannot show their love to the rest of the world is developed throughout. What begins as stolen glances at one another culminates in one of the best dance routines of the show, in which they finally embrace.

Another story tells the tale of a barmaid seduced into a marriage by an older gentleman, a marriage she does not seem completely committed to. Her returning of the ring to him in the second half is one of the more explosive moments of the show, as is the moment in which a prostitute ties a needy client to the bed, only to throw the money at him and leave.

Perhaps the most striking thing about The Midnight Bell is the seamless interlinking of the narratives. The opening set piece, taking place almost entirely in the eponymous pub, works almost as a puzzle, your eyes constantly darting around the stage trying to piece together the connections and relations the characters share, all whilst being dazzled by the smoothness of the cast that glide and bend around one another.

Each performer’s story is executed wordlessly and with absolute competence. They are the DNA that bring The Midnight Bell to life.

The Midnight Bell
Until Saturday 23 October
Liverpool Playhouse

Written by Jamie Tichborne