When Midnight Strikes – Review

It was the night when everything would change. The internet, still in its infancy, would crash – possibly – 9/11 was 21 months away and Friends was still the most popular comedy on TV.

It was the dawn of a new millennium yet, now, it seems a lifetime ago.

For the friends gathered at Jennifer and Christopher’s apartment it would be an unforgettable night. The mother of all parties.

Kevin Hammond’s musical When Midnight Strikes, which opened on Tuesday night at London’s Drayton Arms Theatre, is the latest offering from MKEC Productions, a small but ambitious theatre company which excels in staging little known gems.

Their shows, now becoming as much an annual tradition at the Drayton Arms as Christmas turkey, are invariably well sung and buoyant pieces.

The revival of WMS, just four years after its last outing in the capital, is no different though is, surprisingly, a rather quaint and old-fashioned piece that reflects just how fast the world has moved in the past 17 years.

It’s a brilliant ensemble show with not a weak character or performance in the entire production.

The narrative is rather formulaic in places but that is more than compensated by Hammonds’ heartfelt and witty lyrics.

This is the extended episode of Friends that didn’t make it onto TV. The one where Chandler cheats on Monica and Ross, with a secret he wants no-one to find out about, plays away too.

You know, behind all those Colgate white smiles, that there is heartache in store for almost everyone.

What is it about New York? I’ve never been but whenever its inhabitants are written into stage or screen shows they are invariably portrayed as neurotic and depressed with a whole panoply of problems. Is living in the Big Apple so miserable?

Considering what a cultural melting pot New York is this production stands out for being uniformly white. It really needed a greater ethnic diversity in the casting to reflect the location of the musical.

Quibbles aside WMS is a cute story about a New Year’s Eve, Millennium, dinner party that goes horribly wrong.

It opens with rather solemn music for a party (a cello can do that, no matter how beautifully played) and we see Jennifer and Chris exchanging words as he wanders around in underpants and odd socks.

Jennifer has discovered that her husband, the charming, suave and terribly handsome Christopher (Simon Burr in DJ looking every inch a model for Moss Bros), has been having an affair.

It appears that it may now be over but the dirty dog has been playing away and must pay for his heinous crime.

Worse, it later transpires, that his lover, is a party guest. How cruel is that?

Here the show becomes a little like Cluedo with suspicion falling on just about every female in the room (although I dearly wanted it to be the mysterious and enigmatic gatecrasher, Alex, just to shake things up a little and make the outcome less predictable).

The fact that Jennifer knows means that poor Elizabeth Chadwick must spend the entire performance with a face so sour and thunderous that I’m surprised it didn’t curdle the soup.

She is a raging tempest, furious at his deceit, although it seems that adultery is possibly the final nail in the coffin after years of problems.

Chadwick nails all the emotions, from boredom and disappointment to betrayal and unbridled anger although her powerful singing voice needs to be turned down a notch or two for the intimate performance space of the Drayton Arms.

Other party guests have their own issues. Last year Christopher’s flirtatious, superficial and cowardly brother, Greg, (a great turn by James Dangerfield) dumped his plump girlfriend, Rachel, by leaving a message on her answerphone.

A year later, Marcia Sommerford’s effervescent Rachel, has got over the relationship by losing weight, gaining confidence and illuminating a room when she walks in.

The now bubbly brunette enters in a sexy cocktail dress, cleavage on display, and Greg’s tongue drops out of his mouth. What a fool he’d been!

The most poignant and funniest thread follows inhibited, nervous, boring Edward who, despite being a software millionaire, is still a mummy’s boy and terrified of women.

But Andrew Truluck, dressed like the dapper Mr Toad from Wind in the Willows, is a real comedy talent and pretty soon we are hooked on Ed’s continual blundering through social and romantic convention.

The neighbour from hell, battleaxe Muriel, comes to complain about the noise, and gets more than she bargained for. Victoria Waddington, initially terrifying as Muriel, soon reveals a side of her personality no-one expected.

Lonely and vulnerable, her New Year’s Eve is destined to be a life-changer.

There’s the permissive Nicole (Stephanie Lyse) who picks up anything in trousers, an actress whose dreams have been shattered, a gay best friend (isn’t there always, but a nicely nuanced performance from Marc Kelly); Jennifer’s little sister, Twyla and the friend of her boyfriend, Alex, who she drags along for the night.

But, with the night shattering and making dreams for everyone, I must say the party disappoints. Charades and a naughty drag on a cigarette seems to be as raunchy as it gets.

Listen to the lyrics which are honest, observational and as revelatory as the scathing dialogue. Greg’s A Jerk Like Me; Christopher’s self-pitying Like Father Like Son or the heartfelt and naughty Party Conversation from Muriel and Edward.

When Midnight Strikes hits all the right notes. The singing is outstanding.

Funny and engaging, touching and, at times, tugging on the heartstrings, these probably aren’t your idea of fun guests for a party but their imperfections make compelling theatre.

Running at the Drayton Arms Theatre, Kensington, until November 12.

Review Rating
  • When Midnight Strikes
4

Summary

Funny, furious and heartfelt, the superbly sung When Midnight Strikes looks at the repercussions of an affair on the eve of a new millennium.

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