Regular visitors to the National Theatre may find themselves increasingly confused about exactly when and where it is they’re living: London, 2013? Or early twentieth-century Berlin? The NT’s year kicked off with a revival of Carl Zuckmayer’s ‘The Captain of Köpenick’, gathered pace with the current Olivier adaptation of Erich Kästner’s ‘Emil and the Detectives’, and concludes here with Dennis Kelly’s new take on Georg Kaiser’s 1912 expressionst classic ‘From Morning to Midnight’.
Despite the starkly beautiful drifts of snow that periodically waft over Soutra Gilmour’s fabulous, Georges Méliès-inspired set, don’t come here for any uplifting Weihnachten vibes. It’s not hard to see why Kelly was drawn to the project – ‘Morning to Midnight’ isn’t a million miles away from his recent, bleaker-than-bleak Royal Court play ‘The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas’, insofar as both are pitch-black morality fables about the pernicious effects of capitalism upon a single man.
In ‘Gorge’, the antihero simply becomes a wealthy monster. Here it’s more complicated. At the end of the audacious first scene of Melly Still’s production, Adam Godley’s nameless Clerk – who has hithero only appeared as an anonymous, voiceless drone in a busy bank – unexpectedly malfunctions after misunderstanding a woman’s intentions towards him. He proceeds to freak out, abscond with 60,000 marks, then embark upon an odyssey through bike races and brothels to try and understand the appeal of money.
Still’s production looks extraordinary, a creaking, wheezing, antique feast for senses, its dry darkness enlivened by a splash of Brechtian mucking about (notably a minor character getting ‘accidentally’ hauled into the gods by a scene change).
Despite his fragile, emaciated frame, Godley holds the stage convincingly as the increasingly unhinged Clerk. But much like ‘Gorge’, the show lacks a real heart, and for all the visual flair on offer, there’s something stultifyingly obvious about the way the Clerk’s adventure unfolds. Our hero may shed the mechanism of society, but he remains firmly embedded in Kaiser and Kelly’s potentous moral apparatus.
By Andrzej Lukowski