Sunday 15 September 2013

When Midnight Strikes

Gatehouse Theatre, London


Book and lyrics by Kevin Hammonds
Music by Charles Miller
Directed by Grant Murphy & Damian Sandys

Midnight Strikes.....

When Midnight Strikes is that rare event on London's fringe. It's a show with a respectably sized cast of 12, each of whom is a simply perfect performer. One can offer no criticism at all upon any of the actors and whilst the show itself is well suited to the fringe, the standard of acting on display would grace (or possibly even be better than) many a West End stage.

The show centres upon the New Year celebrations that Chris and Jennifer West are hosting in their stylish Manhattan apartment. Early on, we learn that Jennifer has just discovered an unsigned note that documents her husband's infidelity and in a further revelation we discover that the note's author's handwriting matches that of an unspecified party guest. So the plot thickens as the evening plays out against a back story of a sexual whodunit.

Miranda Wilford is Jennifer and her performance is an exquisite take on someone who has been shattered emotionally, trying to get by with an attempt at a facade at her own party. She captures every minute nuance in a beautifully voiced performance of painfully anguished maturity. Directors Grant Murphy and Damian Sandys have shown perception in coaxing such understated brilliance from this actress.

The magic of this show though is how as Jennifer's life is falling apart, a series of vignettes that showcase each guest in turn, play out around her. The skill that Hammonds displays, in segueing so effortlessly from hilarity to heartbreak is a rare craft indeed and almosts suggests a mash up of Stephen Sondheim with Edward Albee. Sarah Harlington and Stephanie Parker's characters Twyla and Nicole lead a brilliant number, Shut Up, that mercilessly dissects the banal bullshit of cocktail party small talk. Parker later performs way above her years with a painfully wry What You See Ain't Always What You Get, while Ashley Emerson's Chris leads one of several sassily staged company numbers, Smoke Em If You Got Em. It is left to Lucyelle Cliffe to deliver the comedy sub-plot highspot of the night as her cleavage-spilling predatory harridan Murial, the next door neighbour in the block, virtually devours the virtually virginal software millionaire uber-geek Edward (Newley Aucutt), in the sofa based romp When I Make Love To You.

Sexual desire permeates the tale. Jessica Anne Ball is a cracking all-seeing waitress, John Hicks and Samuel Parker keep the male numbers of the cast balanced out with stunning contributions whilst Victoria Croft as hippy Zoe makes the best of perhaps the least defined character of the piece. Tash Holman's Rachel leads Tom Millen's Greg a merry dance as he tries to reignite their relationship and amidst all this mayhem there remains Jennifer's gradual descent into dignified despair.

Music is simply provided by Matt Rampling on piano with cello accompaniment. It's a simple touch that suits the elegant New York ambience of the story. If you like your romance wry, with just a twist of bitter irony, then there are few finer shows to be found in London.

Runs until 29th September

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