An intimate delve into Soho’s underbelly: Matthew Bourne’s The Midnight Bell

Sadler’s Wells, London
October 6, 2021

Matthew Bourne’s latest production for New Adventures, The Midnight Bell, is set in the 1930s Soho of writer Patrick Hamilton’s novels. Characters and situations are lifted from across his books, linked loosely together by their patronage of the show’s eponymous pub.

Bourne delves into the differences he perceives between the worlds of Hamilton’s plays versus his novels. Gaslight and Rope held huge popular appeal and achieved great commercial success in the cinema in productions directed by George Cukor and Alfred Hitchcock respectively.

Paris Fitzpatrick and Bryony Wood in The Midnight Bell
Photo Johan Persson

Hamilton’s novels present harsher, more personal tales of the painful, often lonely search for love. The Midnight Bell collides these worlds. Bourne’s show, much more intimate than his blockbusters such as Nutcracker! and The Sleeping Beauty, begins with a spotlighted dancer charmingly mouthing along to Al Bowlly’s rendition of ‘Man and His Dream’. Other musical numbers include George and Ira Gershwin’s ‘The Man I Love’ and Irving Berlin’s ‘Maybe Because I Love You Too Much’. But the spotlights always fade as Terry Davies’ contemporary score kicks in, the world of showbiz falls away and the dancers present the fragmented tales that lurk in Soho’s underbelly. A spinster isolated amongst the merriment of crowded tearooms and bars; a man suffering a schizophrenic episode; a prostitute caught in a cycle of parading and hiding; a gay couple’s battle with the law.

A contemporary of Hamilton’s, travel writer H V Morton noted that “several centuries of foreign occupation have failed to make Soho look continental. It is just a rather shabby old part of Georgian London.” Lez Brotherston’s standout set, a backdrop of silhouetted brick houses, brilliantly captures this. Paule Constable’s lighting design adds orangey-pink sunsets and thin, blue dawns, which, as they emerge above the rooftops, are a reminder that Soho has its moments of vitality and beauty, albeit damped down.

Matthew Bourne’s The Midnight Bell continues on tour. Visit for dates, venues and booking links.