A striking new musical at the Union Theatre based on Elchin’s Citizens of Hell, Midnight is enthralling, entertaining and exciting
“If these walls could talk, well they’d probably just scream”
We all like to think that we would be part of the resistance if we were living under a repressive regime but the truth is, that kind of pressure is unimaginable unless that suffocating terror is a part of every waking moment, where life or death decisions mean exactly that. This is the milieu that Midnight exists in – Soviet Azerbaijan as 1937 draws to a close – where every knock on the door brings with it the threat of the secret police.
Based on Elchin’s play Citizens of Hell, Laurence Mark Wythe (music and lyrics) and Timothy Knapman’s (book and lyrics) musical adaptation is so very good at translating the eerie strangeness of this world and is a supremely confident new musical to boot. Essentially a three-handed psychological thriller, Kate Golledge’s production is superbly enhanced by the use of a ghostly actor-musician ensemble who complement and complicate the existence that our central couple have set up for themselves.
Colin Burnicle’s Man and Norma Butikofer’s Woman are quietly trying to celebrate New Year’s Eve. The NKVD may have been in the building but it was only their neighbours who had been denounced and taken away, so they’re about to crack open the bubbly. But as a visitor comes a-calling, their celebrations might have come too soon as they’re forced to account for their survival, utterly unprepared for the chaos he is about to unleash.
Leon Scott is an absolute revelation as the Visitor. A baritone as smooth as honey and a manner as devilishly charming as you can imagine, he’s mesmerising and compelling and thus wonderfully dangerous. Colin Burnicle’s strait-laced Man and Norma Butikofer’s achingly-voiced Woman in all her hidden depths are ultimately no match as his playthings and as they begin to unravel, both are convincing in the increasingly desperate excuses and justifications they spin.
Though Elliott Squire’s elegant apartment set design is pragmatic to the last, it also offers hints as to the realms of alternative possibilities and along with Friðþjófur Þorsteinsson’s textured light design, eloquently suggests the demi-monde where the ensemble reside. They play many parts (and instruments) but its the prisoners, the victims, the executed that stand out, the consequences of individual action writ large and never felt more powerfully than in the Act 1 finale.
Wythe’s score is beautifully melodic, almost chamber-musical like in its thematic integrity, but it also draws on a range of influences from varying styles of the 1930s to the Azerbaijani setting. Tap your toes to ‘Let Yourself Go’, wipe a tear during ‘Papa’, try and get the refrain to ‘Everyone’s A Devil Now and Then’ out of your head. Along with Knapman’s neat way with a lyric, Midnight is an enthralling and entertaining piece of musical theatre, exciting too as it swerves its way to its haunting climax.