Fibian McKenzie, Cooper Snow, Albie Stisted, Cody Molko & Anjali Shah. Photo by Manuel Harlan
society/company: Chichester Festival Theatre (professional)(directory)
performance date: 22 Oct 2018
venue: Festival Theatre, Chichester
I’ve been going to shows at Chichester almost since the theatre opened when I was at teacher training college round the corner. And this is the first time in over 50 years that it has included a children’s show in its main Festival programme. Please, please let this be a new tradition because I think it’s a wonderful idea especially if you’ve got talented Dale Rooks (who runs Chichester’s outstanding Learning, Education and Participation Programme) on hand to direct.
This musical version of The Midnight Gang features five child actors (two teams) cast from all over the country and six adult professionals. We’re in the Lord Funt Hospital where children incarcerated in the children’s ward go for adventures round the hospital at night until one project goes hilariously wrong and things have to change. It’s belly laugh funny – Walliams knows a thing or two about laughter of course – but it’s also poignant and moving as it touches on some serious issues such as one child’s terminal illness and one adult’s apparently rootless life. It’s a rather glorious celebration of imagination, kindness and hope too.
Walliams, Lavery and Rooks all know exactly what they’re doing and full marks to ever came up with the idea of the illuminated messages over Simon Higlet’s grandiosely, convincing hospital set complete with reversible panels and rooms emerging from the central floor. I am still chuckling over the instruction that parents should, at this point (a wacky bit of puppetry) cover the eyes of impressionable children and that children with impressionable parents had better cover THEIR eyes.
Cody Molko, a student at Sylvia Young Theatre School, played Tom on press night and found a nice level of assertive innocence and vulnerability in one who hates his boarding school and has been told that his parents don’t care about him. All the children play off each other well. Rafi Essex gives a delightful performance as the cheerfully obese George. Jasmine Sakyiama has oodles of stage presence as Amber and Felix Warren is strong as the geeky, musical Robin whose eyes are bandaged. Cerys Hill sings beautifully as Sally, the cancer patient, especially in the wistful number Big Beautiful Life.
Dickon Gough is outstanding as the Porter who’s been associated with the hospital all his life and has nothing else. He is very tall and, although acting a limp, sometimes takes off gleefully in dance with the children and what a melifluous singing voice. Jennie Dale enjoys herself as the appalling matron pitched somewhere between Miss Trunchbull and the Wicked Witch of the West. Her flirty tango with Tim Mahendran is a moment to treasure. Lucy Vandi is rather good value, too as the jazz singing catering trolley operator, Tootsie.
Arguably, though, the real reason this show works is Joe Stilgoe’s songs. Witty words fly almost continuously and I love the understated melodies often supported by just a vamp so that you can hear and enjoy every one of them. Jennifer Whyte and her five piece band – just visible through the set at the top – do a fine job.
On press night the auditorium was full of parents and grandparents with children enjoying a half term treat. There is clearly an appetite for this sort of thing in Chichester so I’m (hopefully) looking forward to another family show next year.
This review was first published by Sardines: http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?REVIEW-Chichester%20Festival%20Theatre%20(professional)-The%20Midnight%20Gang%20-%20%E2%98%85%E2%98%85%E2%98%85%E2%98%85&reviewsID=3358