I went to see this last week - my first time back in any kind of theatre since March 2020. The experience of being out was mostly okay - we were at The Curve in Leicester where they asked people to keep masks on during the performance - which was busy but not sold out with most people complying with the mask request, and usher's emptied the auditorium out row by row at the end so there was no press of people to get through. Despite all that I find I'm not quite comfortable with being sat in a crowd yet.
The Midnight Bell was also a challenging reintroduction to live performance. I have some of Patrick Hamilton's novels which it's loosely based on, bought many years ago with good intentions. But then I read somewhere that Julie Birchill is a massive fan, and I find her so annoying that it's put me off ever since. This is probably doing both Hamilton and Burchill a disservice. I might not like her writing much, but I have no reason to be sniffy about her reading. That's the nature of prejudice though.
Even if I had read 'Hangover Square', The Midnight Bell is based on several books with added bits so I'm not sure it would have helped. What would have been useful would have been more of a synopsis in the program, or even a breakdown of who the characters were.
As it is the dancing is excellent, but it was hard to work out what was going on - the first 20 minutes felt like an intro for something that never came. The ballet follows the lives of 10 characters who frequent The Midnight Bell pub as they form and reform relationships with each other mostly fuelled by alcohol. In the second half, the action has moved on a month and we see how those relationships resolve.
It works well, especially with a gay relationship that wasn't explicitly in the Hamilton books. This becomes the heart of the piece and the story we (my friend and I) mostly cared about. Probably least successful from our point of view was the relationship between George Harvey Bone (a schizophrenic) and Netta Longdon (an out-of-work actress). The violence this ends with was unwelcome given recent news. If we'd known it was coming we probably wouldn't have been as put off by it, but we didn't and it was jarring.
Altogether worth seeing, I've not seen a story like this told in dance before and I think it worked well. we enjoyed the challenge of it, and I'm glad I've seen something this year, but on reflection I don't think I'll be going back into a theatre until the spring. Covid numbers feel just too high and work makes me vulnerable enough,