Hangovers and hang-ups: Matthew Bourne’s The Midnight Bell steps into 30s Soho

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Lyndsey Winship

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The choreographer’s new show brings together lonely souls from the London novels of Patrick Hamilton. Expect regret, fumbling and a hint of mystery

“Understanding a particular time, a code of manners, how people were in a different era is always fascinating to me,” says Matthew Bourne. The choreographer is known for creating immersive worlds on stage. Whether it’s 1960s small-town America in The Car Man, a blitz-era Cinderella or the backstage life of an early 20th-century ballet company in The Red Shoes, Bourne’s eye for period detail is astute. But for those who only know his forays into the more fantastical worlds of Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, Bourne’s latest choice of subject may seem a departure.

The Midnight Bell is based on the novels of Patrick Hamilton, author of Hangover Square and 20,000 Streets Under the Sky, as well as the plays Rope and Gas Light (which both famously became films). Hamilton’s milieu is the bleak and seedy Soho of the 1930s, a land of characters who live in single rooms in boarding houses and gather in the pub for company, searching for connection. “It’s not the 1920s and 30s we tend to think of,” says Bourne. “It’s not Noël Coward and glamorous people in silk dresses with cocktails. The Hamilton novels feel so much like the authentic voice of real people. I love that, and I fell in love with the characters.

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