Midnight: A New Musical – Union Theatre, London

Book and Lyrics: Timothy Knapman

Music and Lyrics: Laurence Mark Wythe

Director: Kate Golledge

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Based on a play by the Azerbaijani playwright Elchin, this new musical is reminiscent of both Dr. Faustusand An Inspector Calls, with even a few nods to A Christmas Carol. Midnightis a dark and comic moral tale of what happens when you sell your soul to the Devil.

A married couple are preparing to celebrate the coming of the new year, and as the clock counts down to 1938, they hear an ominous knock on the door. Just from the knock itself, they know it’s the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, who drag people away in the middle of the night claiming that they are enemies of the state. But surely our couple is safe? The husband is high up in the Communist Party, so high up that he has recently been granted ‘protection’, which means that he’s officially above suspicion. Their visitor does claim that he is, indeed, from the NKVD, but the way he knows their secrets seems almost supernatural.

The story is gripping, capturing the paranoia of Stalin’s Great Terror of 1936-38 where people would denounce their friends and neighbours as counter-revolutionaries in order to save their own skins. It is thought that around one million people were killed during this period. This may seem inappropriate material for a musical, but the songs by Timothy Knapman and Laurence Mark Wythe are often funny, bringing with them a sense of the burlesque to underscore the farcical events happening on stage. With some tango here and there, and even some boogie-woogie, the songs are linked by a definite style and are played by a talented ensemble of actor-musicians. The variety of the instruments used is staggering especially in the percussion section where Ashley Daniels is in charge of drums, cymbals, washboards, and even a xylophone. With Chris Cuming’s choreography, and with their exaggerated make-up, this chorus is straight out of Cabaret.

As Man and Woman, Colin Burnicle and Norma Butikofer are in fine voice, and their cut-glass accents give some of the songs a Noel Coward feel, but it’s Leon Scott, as the Visitor, who steals the show. They say that the Devil has the best tunes, and The Future Came A-Knockingis a stirring opening number, and who can’t resist such rhymes are ‘disputin’/ Rasputin’ and ‘Anastasia/ erase yer’? Scott is, at times, menacing, and, at others, camp, and his voice is always strong enough to soar above the music. It’s an impressive performance.

Elliott Squire’s set, an apartment in Baku, with doors and windows lit up by neon lights, is functional without being ground-breaking, but it does give the ensemble plenty of space to roam and dance. Director Kate Golledge’s consistency of style here almost obscures the fact that some of the songs are unmemorable, and that some of the songs are simply too short: Let Me Sleepsung by Melania Maggiore and Burnicle’s Utopiaseem over in a flash. But for a brand new musical, this is a promising production.

Runs until 29 September 2018 | Image: Contributed

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