Not being the biggest fan of house parties, and having just turned eighteen, I welcomed the new Millennium in a rather dingy night club which no longer exists. That night, for those of us who can remember it, signaled a new beginning, and When Midnight Strikes by Kevin Hammonds and Charles Miller at The Drayton Arms Theatre, seizes upon this idea, and makes a musical of it.
Auld Lang Syne may be nowhere to be heard, but it’s definitely New Years Eve in Manhattan, as perfect hostess Jennifer West (Elizabeth Chadwick) welcomes guests to a party which will have plenty of fireworks. It soon becomes obvious that all is not well between her and husband, Christopher (Simon Burr). As the guests keep arriving, and there’s a lot of them, you wonder how they are all connected, and how they will fit into the plot.
The truth is some of them don’t, they are the guests on the fringe of the party, the ones you never quite get round to talking to properly. Granted, the large cast of characters makes it difficult to really explore any one in particular, but I choose to believe that’s deliberate; think about a dinner party you’ve attended, a group of mostly strangers thrown together for one evening, you see only what they let you see in those fleeting moments.
Those moments are captured well; for most of the first act the party is in full swing, and we listen in to snatched pieces of dialogue, which are illuminated with nice lighting cues. The set feels realistic, if a little small, and the projected Manhattan skyline completes the overall look. The score is catchy enough, with a nice mix of musical styles, from classical to Latin beat.
When Midnight Strikes can, at times, feel like a hybrid episode of Friends, Will & Grace and Sex and The City. The characters all fit one stereotype or another, but that does help you get the measure of them all fairly early on. While no-one really gets the chance to shine there are a few standout performances; Ellie Nunn is fantastic as the hired help Josephina, and her performance of I Never Learned to Type is touching and beautiful.
Georgina Nicholas, as Twyla, sounds superb with You Know How To Love Me, and Simon Burr gives an emotional performance with Like Father Like Son. Victoria Waddington as Murial, and Andrew Truluck, as Edward provide the comedy element, and they pull it off wonderfully.
The choice of date treads a fine line, 1999 cannot yet be classed as a classical age, but is a little too long ago to be considered recent, leaving it feeling a little dated. However, this production, directed by Marc Kelly, handles it well, with costumes which look the part, references to the Millennium bug and even a polyphonic ringtone!
When Midnight Strikes may not be the most ground breaking piece of theatre, but it is thoroughly enjoyable. There is more than enough to keep you invested in the characters and their lives, for that night anyway. I know what happened to the night club where I spent that New Years Eve, but I’ll never know if Jennifer and Christopher reconciled their differences, or if Josephina ever learned to type, but that’s the beauty of it, because we were fleeting guests at that party too.