Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Theatre review: In the Dead of Night

"It breaks all the rules" is one of those clichés that crops up all the time when describing shows; it usually means "food gets thrown around in a vaguely symbolic way." At least In the Dead of Night at the Landor has made a very specific decision about which rules it's going to break: Those of the Hays Code, which censored Hollywood movies between 1930 and 1968. Since this included the heyday of film noir, writer/director Claudio Macor has tried to imagine what those movies would have been like if they'd actually been able to show the sexuality, swearing, violence and criminals getting away with it, that actually underpinned much of their source material. The result is a story set in a South American shanty town that doesn't fall under any regional jurisdiction, and as such is the ideal place for illegal bars, prostitution and drug trafficking to flourish.

Elvira (Judith Paris) runs a bar selling especially potent tequila, as well as the services of prostitutes both male and female. While she contends with an unwelcome visitor from her past in corrupt politician Falchi (Ned Wolfgang Kelly,) rent-boy Massimo (Jordan Alexander) is reunited with his lover Leandro (Matt Mella,) while prostitute Rita (Susannah Allman) falls for a mysterious Frenchman (Tristan Robin.)

Although it doesn't break the Hays Code rules on nudity, In the Dead of Night seems particularly keen on breaking the one against sexy dancing, the code having apparently been drawn up by John Lithgow in Footloose. So there's several tango interludes choreographed by Anthony Whiteman - they're well-done, but there's too many of them in time that could have been spent untangling the various plot threads.

The cast really throw themselves into the 1940s style, although at times it's hard to tell if their performances are pastiche or just hamming it up. Certainly the stunning Allman is perfectly cast as Rita - everything about her look and performance feels like the real thing. Ross Harper Millar is also good as a (literally) filthy drug dealer fixated on Elvira. And sometimes Macor's overwrought dialogue feels wonderfully, cheesily authentic too - "our hearts are like that worm, pickled in tequila."

But the pacing never feels right: It's not just the regular dance interludes where people announce something along the lines of "I know you want to kill me, but first, tango!" but also an attempt to put a lot of backstory in that sometimes leads nowhere - Leandro being the son of the local mob boss turns out to have zero relevance to the story - and others leads to interminable exposition, like Elvira informing Falchi of their entire history together, which presumably he knows about since he was there. So a fun attempt with some game performances, but one that never quite builds up the thrills it's aiming for.

In the Dead of Night by Claudio Macor is booking until the 16th of May at the Landor Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes including interval.

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