The Midnight Bell, Bath Theatre Royal

MATTHEW Bourne’s  The Midnight Bell, inspired by the writings of novelist Patrick Hamilton and set in central London in the early 1930s, is a febrile investigation of love and how to find it, as well as a nostalgic plunge into a barely-remembered time.

We know, looking at the era from the next century, what was going to happen, but neither Hamilton nor Bourne succumb to the temptation of including The Great War as anything more than a momentary glance.  The urban street life it depicts – prostitutes, young lovers, frightened homosexuals, lonely spinsters, spivs and disturbed individuals in the days before fashionable “mental health issues” – are vibrantly realistic, even in the evocative gloom of another of Lez Brotherston’s astonishing sets.

Bourne’s debt to German choreographer Pina Bausch has never been more clearly demonstrated, but, as always, he has created his own narrative for this mesmerising piece of dance theatre, which ends its 13-venue tour in Bath this week.

As the characters emerge in their night-time visits to the bars, rooming hotels and streets of Soho and Fitzrovia, their stories gain an urgent and poignant interest for the audience in a structure that mirrors the classical ballet conventions of pairs of lovers demonstrating their terpsichorean prowess. It is beautiful, moving, tender, frightening and indelibly memorable, a triumph for the company whose members have evolved before their audiences’ eyes in a succession of brilliant productions by Adventures in Motion Pictures, New Adventures and Bourne’s other works.

The Midnight Bell is, as they all are, an ensemble piece, depending on the precise and multi-faceted characterisations achieved by the combination of dancer, choreographer and set, costume and lighting designer. Once again it is a New Adventures triumph. The company is Paris Fitzpatrick, Bryony Harrison, Bryony Wood, Reece Causton, Michela Meazza, Glenn Graham, Daisy May Kemp, Richard Windsor, Liam Mower and Andrew Monaghan. Read their biographies and you will remember their various characters in previous Bourne works, or meet them for the first time and follow them forward with the company.

The music, chosen by  composer and conductor Terry Davies, is drawn from the contemporary archive, full of songs familiar well into the 1940s and 50s but rooted in the inter-war period of hope and despair.

There may be a handful of tickets for the rest of the Bath run, or see The Midnight Bell when it returns, as it surely will.  Thanks again, Matthew and Co.


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