Matthew Bourne’s The Midnight Bell Review

York Theatre Royal – until Sat 2 October 2021

Reviewed by Michelle Richardson


Matthew Bourne’s latest production, is described as “intoxicated tales from the darkest Soho” and based on the novels of Patrick Hamilton. All the action takes place at The Midnight Bell, a public house and Central London in the 1930’s.

The stage is dark, murky as a lone figure dances across the floor, only to awake on a bed, he was just dreaming. He’s a bartender at The Midnight Bell, a dingy pub, where a mix of characters seek solace, eager to find love and that connection with another person.

From the onset we are captivated and fully immersed in each character, as they move effortlessly across the stage, all through the power of dance. We get to see the giddiness of new love, the joy, the desire, and anguish that it can bring.

Each dancer has their own story. A barmaid who foolishly agrees to marry a much older man, whilst secretly in love with a bartender, who is enthralled by a prostitute, an older lady fleeced by a dashing cad, a schizophrenic who is tortured soul being tormented by an out of work actress, who has a fondness for other men and a secretly gay couple. The forbidden love that these two have at a time when homosexuality was illegal is gripping, the emotion and turmoil that runs through them is palatable.

The dancers told the story with effortless ease, fluid in every movement. They took us on a journey of wanting to find love, often unrequited, the anguish of when it all went so horribly wrong. We were left feeling there is some hope, with the spinster gaining confidence, and just maybe the gay couple can really be together.

The soundtrack is interwoven with songs from the 30’s, which are mimed by the dancers, depicts the era perfectly. Sound is also used with great effect to depict a couple of schizophrenic episodes. Be warned this is an ear piercing, high-pitched noise.

The set is so very clever providing you with the atmosphere of the seediness of Soho at the time. Changes of scenery are executed with flawless effect, the use of window frames and a sign for a phone box being lowered and raised, lit up signs depicting rooms, dance hall and cinema, flicker on and off as the story unfold. On the stage table and chairs, a park bench come and go, as does the bar, the props are moved about with ease by the dancers. It is amazing to see scene changes being choreographed so well within the dance.

The Midnight Bell is a superb show, and the dancers seriously impress, not only with the dancing but the story telling, compelling to watch. Who needs words?

Bourne has stated that he believes that he has one big show left in him, we hope so, we’re certainly not ready for this to be his last swansong.