Pros: Catchy tunes, zingy one-liners and great performances. A hugely enjoyable riot.
Cons: The play takes a little time to warm up, but the wait is worth it. When the devil sings, he roars, he reigns.
Adapted from Elchin’s play Citizens of Hell, Midnight blends Broadway musical showtunes and ghostly apparitions with episodes that veer from tragedy to farce. The show’s hard realism, intercut with flights of fantasy, is reminiscent of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. The play however reveals an additional layer of complexity with its portrait of a marriage at once hopeful and crumbling. Commitment and betrayal collide.
Time stands still in that little flat in Baku, when the clocks stop just before midnight, and maybe it disappears altogether as the unwelcome visitor appears. Past and present co-exist vividly as the couple reminisce, and yet husband and wife have each a different recollection of the same incident. It’s a brilliantly executed scene that turns out to be a hugely enjoyable moment in a series of excellent set-pieces. The choreography of the fight scenes is compelling, exciting. A woman’s harsh ferocity, springing out of almost nowhere, rings true, and gives a sense of what one might become when life is barely more than a matter of survival. A seduction scene becomes surprisingly enthralling.
Leon Scott, who plays the unwelcome visitor hoping to fetch his last soul of the year, is an actor with great stage presence. He is perfectly cast and captures scarily well the cheerful yet dangerous amiability of the archetypal Mephistopheles. There is a sense of intimacy to his thoroughly evil character. He soothes and caresses, with destruction in sight. And he sings. This is, after all, a musical, and it all works unexpectedly well. The ensemble of ghostly actor-musicians framing the action is accomplished and a sinister, carnivalesque delight. The music is catchy and fun, from showboat tunes to deadly serious tango, by way of carefree Charleston. There are fine voices too, especially from Melania Maggiore, and Leon Scott, again.
The Union Theatre is a charming, welcoming venue, its atmosphere enhanced by the occasional rumble of trains. As the interval neared its end, the ghoulish musical ensemble appeared in the café courtyard and Pied Piper-like, led the audience back to their seats. Something miraculous happened in the second half of the play. Through a mysterious alchemy the play progressed from enjoyable to deeply enjoyable, and the audience seemed entranced. Perhaps the devil had cast a strange and peculiar spell.
Book and Lyrics: Timothy Knapman
Music and Lyrics: Laurence Mark Wythe
Based on the play: “Citizens of Hell” by Elchin
Director: Kate Golledge
Choreographer: Chris Cuming
Musical Director: Harry Haden-Brown
Producer: Sanan Aliyev for Debunk Theatre
Box Office: 020 7261 9876
Booking Link: http://www.uniontheatre.biz/midnight.html
Booking Until: 29 September 2018