The Theatreguide.London Review
Lyttelton Theatre Winter 2013-2014
A German expressionist social satire from 1912 is exactly the sort of thing a national theatre should take a look at from time to time, and the fact that neither Georg Kaiser's From Morning To Midnight nor Melly Still's production is particularly good doesn't negate the validity and value of the experiment.
Whether you want to see it is another matter, depending on how motivated you are to fill in a gap in your theatrical experience.
A faceless little bank clerk sees a beautiful woman enter the bank and suddenly realises how much of the world has not been part of his life. He impulsively steals a pile of cash, but when it becomes clear she's not going to run off with him – she turns out to be a respectable middle-class matron – he sets off in search of some experience that will be worth throwing his life away for.
The mob excitement of a sporting event, the debauchery of a brothel and even the ecstasy of a religious revival all prove inadequate or too easily corruptible, and before the day is over he concludes that he might as well be dead.
Expressionism is the mode that attempts to reflect inner emotional states through distortions of objective reality. So, in a strong opening scene, the deadly routine of the bank is presented through tightly choreographed and synchronised mechanical movements and exaggerated sound effects.
But once the play moves toward the clerk's misadventures both the playwright's invention and the director's seem to wane. The episodic structure of the play, in Dennis Kelly's adaptation, means that nobody else is around for more than a scene or two – that glamorous woman is actually given the materials for a whole subplot, only to be immediately dropped and forgotten – and each new setting merely disappoints the man in similar and predictable ways.
Meanwhile, director Still and designer Soutra Gilmour quickly give up on the Expressionism. The symbolic staging of a bicycle race might seem imaginative if you had not seen the similar but much more evocative foot races in Chariots Of Fire last year, but most of the production after the first forty minutes or so is essentially realistic and visually uninteresting.
Adam Godley as the clerk is onstage almost uninterruptedly, and if he never manages to convince as someone searching for the meaning (or at least the defining thrill) of life, he does capture the doomed sense of a man always a few steps behind the fate that is leading him.
From Morning To Midnight is no masterpiece, but it was well worth reviving, just to see what was there. It is regrettable that the National Theatre couldn't mount a stronger production.
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