Matthew Bournes‘ latest dance theatre presentation, The Midnight Bell, is his most exquisitely subtle dance work yet. Created from a number of characters from Patrick Hamilton’s early 1930s novels about the often lonely working class characters surviving on smoggy London housing estates, The Midnight Bell oozes tales of solitary isolation and potential passions ignited and given some social respite in the pub on the corner. One homosexual pairing trembles and fights itself with palpable passion and guilty rejection and back to full on passion again. The danger of being caught by the law in moments of public or private intimacy is very clear as it is danced here. This is given further irony in the second act when we discover what the lover of the West End chorus boy’s job is.
With one character we enter the difficult world of a bearded George Harvey Bone, a schizophrenic (Richard Winsor) whose dances always seem to crash on the shores of unrequited love; where a second male constantly breaks into his dances and physicalised conversations with the woman of his dreams.
The whole piece is sexily saturated with constantly intermingling characters; the dancing goes from louche to frenetic and the choreographic direction occasionally takes them from grimy Central London to fantastical spot lit visions of their amours. Bourne uses a smaller cast than in his previous shows. Here we have twelve dancers each playing a very specific part. Bringing the whole show to delightful voyeuristic life are Paris Fitzpatrick (Bob- a waiter), Bryony Harrison (Ella- a barmaid), Bryony Wood (Jenny Maple – a young prostitute), Reece Causton (Mr Eccles – a regular customer), Michela Meazza (Miss Roach – a lonely spinster), Glen Graham (Ernest Ralph Gorse – a cad), Daisy May Kemp (Nettie Longdon – an out-of-work actress), Liam Mower (Albert – a West End chorus boy) and Andrew Monaghan (Frank – a new customer).
All dance magnificently and the piece is further enhanced by a very atmospheric set and costumes design (Lez Brotherston) that suggests the pub, an isolated public phone box, a sleazy hotel, the dark ‘ big dog barking’ murderous streets surrounding The Midnight Bell, a flea pit cinema, cramped back-to-back housing, the sophistications of Lyons’ Tea House – complete with a Nippy waitress, a park and silhouetted rows of rooftops and chimney pots variously depositing inky black smut and smoke into the enigmatic evening sky. Paule Constable’s lighting is outstanding as is the Paul Groothuis’ theatro-realistic sound design. If Patrick Hamilton were alive today I think he would adore the whole feel, both set, music and dancers combined.
But of course it is not just those two elements that make up the compelling iteration of Patrick Hamilton’s tales made dance theatre on the Curve stage tonight. Clever use is made of miming to period songs such as George and Ira Gershwin’s ‘The Man I Love’, and ‘Solitude’ (words by Eddie De Lange and Irving Mills – music by Duke Ellington) and other rarer but poignantly relevant tracks from the 1930s. Terry Davies’ score is heart-breakingly brilliant, serving The Midnight Bell extremely well through the many mood changes. It comes as no surprise that this composer is the ‘go to’ man for the majority of New Adventures’ dance productions.
Intimate bedroom scenes are ingeniously choreographed using a single bed and two separate pairs of lovers who interact through dance, around, over and on the bed completely oblivious of the other couple. He may be humble about his dance genius but Bourne’s choreography has always taken the ordinary and small fleeting moments of the human condition and ways of communication and developed them into a compelling blend of exquisite and explicit. And The Midnight Bell is both deliciously exquisite and exploits the term explicit with its gnawing tales of desperate individual needs for social and sexual interaction. This may be demonstrated via a set of fictional humans from decades gone by but the requisite stories of romantic requital, rebuff and resolution are still acutely relevant to today’s audiences. Go see.
The Midnight Bell runs (or even dances) at Curve Theatre Leicester from 11th – 16th October.