The Midnight Bell – the latest offering from artistic director Matthew Bourne, which played at Lighthouse, Poole on 4 November – is a mesmerising piece of dance theatre that explores the under-belly of 1930s London life where ordinary people emerge from cheap boarding houses nightly to pour out their passions, hopes and dreams in the pubs and bars of fog-bound Soho and Fitzrovia.
Throughout the piece, the audience is invited to observe as the dynamics of relationships play out simultaneously. George Bone, a schizophrenic, is desperately in love with actress Netta, who seeks attention from anyone who offers it; Bob the barman leaves his girlfriend Ella to pursue his obsession with prostitute Jenny; Mr Eccles takes advantage and woos Ella, who eventually leaves him because she’s still in love with Bob; the spinster Miss Roach is taken in and used by cad Ernest, who also chases Netta; and Albert and Frank begin a forbidden relationship.
Set to an original score that evokes the atmosphere of the 1930s, the contemporary-style dance drew attention from couple to couple, often within a larger group scene. As one relationship played out, another would start developing across the stage and the attention would be drawn to that narrative instead.
Each couple had their own unique style while maintaining a cohesive whole, with repeated refrains bringing the whole performance together. There were lip-synched sections at the beginning, end and particularly poignant moments, which served to accentuate important moments.
While the first act saw the development of the relationships, and a period of hope, Act Two was much more dramatic and played out bitter comedies of longing, frustration, betrayal and redemption.
This was a piece that really drew in the audience, using innovative techniques to give life to the stories it told. The dancers were also accomplished actors, which enhanced the strength of the piece, leaving me reliving parts of the performance long after it had finished.
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