Review: From Morning to Midnight, National Theatre

“Well, that was a bit odd”

Sometimes, one knows from the first moments of a show that it just isn’t going to be your cup of tea. And so it was with the opening montage of Melly Still’s new production of From Morning to Midnight, a landmark of German expressionism apparently but for me, a hugely ambitious piece of stagecraft that indulges far too much overt theatricality at the expense of dramatic integrity. It is worth noting ‘twas a preview that I saw and one in which understudy Jack Tarlton had to step in for the injured Adam Godley in the lead role.

Georg Kaiser’s 1912 play uses an episodic form to tell the story of an everyday clerk who is jolted from the mundaneness of his existence when a sultry Italian wanders into his bank, inspiring him to seize the day and make a change to his dull family life. That he does by stealing 60,000 marks from the bank with the intention of eloping with this woman but when she rejects him, the clerk delves into a journey of the soul – both actual and metaphysical – that lasts for a day but feels like a lifetime.

Part of the problem lies in Dennis Kelly’s translation, a writer whom I’ve had issues with in the past, and so it proves again as he flattens out the clerk’s experiences to a crushingly bland level, failing to anchor him in any real sense so that there’s an appreciation of the psychological torment that underlies the constant shifts between reality and fantasy. Instead there’s a slipperiness which never allows the audience to gain any purchase, to assess the institutions against which he, and assumably Kaiser in his original, railed in the pursuit of genuine individual freedom.

But Still’s production also feels flawed, full of set pieces that sprawl over the Lyttelton’s stage yet feel over-inflated as far as the directorial vision goes. As an example, all the business with money is mimed, with the ensemble doing foley work on the side, yet most of the transactions are obscured by the design of the bank teller’s set – so much feels like it would be better in a much more intimate space. Instead, sheets are swirled, huge videos are projected, things are hoisted and a revolve spins merrily away, all providing spectacle (of sorts) but none demonstrating necessity. 

Perchance by (the delayed) opening night, all will be smelling of roses, clearly some things will run more smoothly, but my problems here lie deeper than what any tweaks during previews might resolve. A fundamental lack of purpose to the storytelling, exacerbated by an extravagant production, resulting in the kind of theatre that just turns me off. And I knew it from the opening moments. 

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Johan Persson

Booking until 26th January

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