Some musicals are original. Some are well written. And some – though sadly very few – have memorable tunes. To find a musical which combines all three is rarer than hen’s teeth, and to find it in a small, intimate theatre above a pub – well, that really is the stuff of fantasy.
When Midnight Strikes is that unicorn. Kevin Hammonds’ witty, sharp writing melds seamlessly with Charles Miller’s music, and in director Marc Kelly’s capable hands it becomes a thing of joy.
Manhattan couple Jennifer (Elizabeth Chadwick) and Christopher (Simon Burr) are hosting a party. And not just any party – this is New Year’s Eve 1999 when the millennium bug buzzes its wings threateningly above our heads and change blazes in the stars. This party will be one to remember; sadly, despite Jennifer’s legendary hostessing skills, it will be for all the wrong reasons. She has found a note exposing Christopher’s infidelity, and it transpires that his mystery lover is actually here in the flat. As if this were not enough to contend with she has to cope with flaky guests, drunken guests, uninvited guests and guests who canoodle on the sofa. Not to mention a snarky waitress. As midnight and the new millennium draw near, will she be able to hold it all, and herself, together?
Victoria Francis’ set design perfectly captures the ethos of the era, and the twinkling lights of the high rises outside glimpsed through the balcony window is a clever and effective way both to extend the scope of the stage and to indicate the passing of time. Characters run in and out through the balcony door, the front door, and the dining room door, skilfully skirting the two excellent on-stage musicians, who blend discreetly into the background as chaos rages around them. Having a large cast in such a small space might have felt messy and claustrophobic, but Kelly has iron control of his cast and keeps everything flowing smoothly. The group musical numbers are perfectly choreographed and all movement feels natural and tight.
It is sometimes the case in musical theatre that the acting is secondary to the singing; however, this is not the case here. All of the actors are excellent, bringing both pathos and comedy to their roles and developing them far beyond the original stereotype. Stand out turns come from the director himself as flamboyant Bradley; from Stephanie Lysé as acerbic party girl Nicole; and from Ellie Nunn as the despairing yet staunchly cheery waitress Josephina. If there is one criticism to be made it is that Elizabeth Chadwick, as Jennifer, turns on the rage too early which leaves her nowhere to go. It would have had more impact had she started out brittle and acid, then gradually ramped it up before finally exploding into a storming fury of wronged womanhood. Nevertheless, this is a minor quibble.
As for the songs – well, what to say except that this is one soundtrack I really, truly need in my life. Solos and ensemble pieces alike are superbly penned, whether exposing the pain behind the smiles (‘Party Face’, ‘It’s Not a Party ‘til Something Gets Broken’), highlighting the superficial nonsense of social gatherings (‘We’re Here’, ‘Shut Up’) or perfectly satirising awkward courtship rituals (the hilarious ‘Party Conversation’). ‘Like Father Like Son’ ‘What You See’ and ‘I never Learned To Type’ tug mercilessly on the heartstrings, and ‘Too Little Too Late’ is a barnstorming number destined to bounce around in your head for days.
When Midnight Strikes has been staged twice before in London; once at The Finborough, and once at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, both to excellent reviews; before inexplicably disappearing beneath the waves generated by lesser shows. I pray this doesn’t happen again – this gem of a musical deserves a wide platform and a large, appreciative audience. Huge congratulations to all involved in its triumphant rebirth.
Review by Genni Trickett
It’s New Year’s Eve 1999 and Jennifer and Christopher welcome you to the party of parties. But when everyone has something they want to change, and plenty they want to hide, the party starts to fall apart. The clock is ticking, and when midnight strikes, what will the new year bring?
When Midnight Strikes is a fun and fresh contemporary British musical by Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds. Full of show-stopping songs and complex characters, this deftly-plotted drama is about saying goodbye to the past and accepting change.
Charles Miller’s musical stars Simon Burr as Christopher, Elizabeth Chadwick as Jenifer, Ellie Nunn as Josephina, Victoria George as Zoe, Stephanie Lyse as Nicole, James Dangerfield as Greg, Marcia Sommerford as Rachel, Georgina Nicholas as Twyla, Marc Kelly as Bradley, Matthew Boyd as Alex, Andrew Truluck as Edward and Victoria Waddington as Muriel. Musical Direction by Oli Rew.
Producers – Marc Kelly and Elizabeth Chadwick for MKEC Productions
Musical Director – Oli Rew
Set Design – Victoria Francis
Technical Director – Andy Hill
Stage Manager – Helen Burdett
When Midnight Strikes
Book and Lyrics: Kevin Hammonds
Music: Charles Miller
Tuesday 17th October – Sunday 12th November
Drayton Arms Theatre, 153 Old Brompton Road, London, SW5 0LJ