Pros: Wonderful, funny, lovely, imaginative and beautiful performance.
Cons: Kids and balloons inevitably lead to a lot of noise.
Something really special is happening at the lovely and welcoming Chickenshed Theatre in North London as they bring to life an adaptation of David Walliams’ children’s book, The Midnight Gang. They have put together an absolute triumph of a performance. It is a play for children that entertains and fosters the imagination, and simultaneously tugs on the heartstrings of adults. It’s imaginative, innovative, funny and deserves a sell out crowd at every turn.
The Midnight Gang tells the story of five children, who are being treated for various ailments in hospital. New boy Tom enters the ward after getting whacked in the head with a cricket ball and, affected by the loneliness he suffers in daily life, he is desperate to get involved with the tight-knit gang’s nightly adventures. Every midnight, most of the children band together to escape the ward’s fabulously villainous matron (Sarah Connolly in an outstanding performance) and visit the kind and caring, yet disfigured Porter (Ashley Driver), who works through the night to bring their dreams to life and grant every child one amazing wish.
It is true to the David Walliams book of the same name, and the incorporation of the Quentin Blake illustrations is clever. There is creativity here in spades, and I adore the action packed chase scene, when an elderly patient accidentally soars across the skies of London while holding onto all the balloons in the hospital. There’s a lovely immersive touch for the audience at the end of it, even if it does lead to lots of small children rubbing balloons for most of the rest of the performance (as a side note – this is my absolute kryptonite noise).
The cast are a delight. It is hard to believe those playing children are in fact adults, as they do their roles with such conviction and authenticity. Every character is excellently cast, but I must confess to Michael Bossisse as Tootsie being an audience favourite – the audience quite literally lights up when she takes to the stage, and suddenly all the kids in the audience lean forward in anticipation of her comical performance.
The aforementioned Sarah Connolly is the standout star. She is every inch the harsh matron – think Matilda’s Turnbull with a nursing career. She is faultless, from her hair to her toes – not to mention her stunning makeup – and she excels in this role. She is easy to despise, and her response to her inevitable change in fate is subtly masterful.
It is a romp of light and imagination, but there is a deeper purpose to the young gang’s determination to make dreams come true. Most of the children are aware they will recover, but one is facing a serious illness. Her dream? To live a big, wonderful life. The scene covering this wish is phenomenal – the children in the audience have downed their balloon rubbing and are watching with rapt attention, the adults are smiling, and as for me? I’m sobbing, openly, amidst this scene of tremendous, bittersweet, joy. It’s quite simply incredible.
That a play with a running time of approximately 2 hours can hold children’s attention for the entire time is remarkable; that it can do the same for adults is nothing short of a miracle. The book is excellent, and the play absolutely lives up to it – I approve wholeheartedly, and word on the street is, author David Walliams does too.
Original Author: David Walliams
Adapted & Directed By: Lou Stein
Box Office: 02082929222
Booking Link: https://www.chickenshed.org.uk/midnight-gang
Booking Until: August 6, 2017