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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the National (Lyttelton)


  Adam Godley and Gina Bellman/ Ph: Johan Persson

The National Theatre would currently appear to be hooked on German Expressionism. Two new productions in as many days evoke this period of Germanic culture, with Georg Kaiser’s From Morning to Midnight following close on the heels of Erich Kastner’s Emil and the Detectives.
Kaiser, who was born in 1878 and died in 1945, wrote about 70 plays in varying styles. During the period of the Weimar Republic he was the most performed of all the contemporary German playwrights. His work, however, is barely known in Britain or the States, and on the evidence of From Morning to Midnight, written in 1912 (and newly translated by Dennis Kelly), it isn’t difficult to see why.
Covering what, in the fullness of time, has become a cliché, the play tells the familiar story of a nameless Mr. Everyman (Adam Godley), a nerdy bank clerk who, in a moment of uncharacteristic madness, absconds with 60,000 marks. Abandoning a wife, his mother and two teenage daughters, he embarks on a one-day physical and mental search in the hope that his great adventure as a criminal will result in a cathartic awakening to what had hitherto been a colourless existence. Convinced that the 60,000 marks he has stolen will somehow pay for his salvation, he is prepared to offer 50,000 of them as a cash prize to a group of competing cyclists just to see the excitement such a race will engender in the crowd.
When the Kaiser himself puts in an appearance at the cycling stadium and the frenzied cheering of the spectators turns to silence, the hapless clerk withdraws his offer and continues to seek the meaning of life elsewhere – first in a sleazy sex club, then at a Salvation Army gathering whose worshipping flock proves to be just as money obsessed as everyone else. In an act of spiritual ecstasy, the clerk tosses his stolen windfall into the air, only to be shocked and disillusioned by the violent scrum that follows as the worshippers literally fight for possession of the falling bank notes.
Though Godley deserves overtime for all his palpable hard work, the character emerges as little more than a theatrical prototype. And while the National has thrown its full resources behind director Melly Stills’ busy production (the ever-changing sets are by Soutra Gilmour, the lighting by Bruno Poet and the projections by Andrzek Goulding), the results hardly justify the considerable means.
This long day’s journey into night begins with the image of the minute and hour hands of an enormous clock swallowing time as they swing round and round. By the end of the evening I felt my own life slowly ticking away as I waited for the inevitable unhappy ending to release me from my boredom.


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