The official opening of From Morning to Midnight at the National Theatre was postponed when its leading actor Adam Godley had to have an operation on a torn muscle in his stomach. But there were no visible signs of strain by the time he opened in the show 10 days later, nor any evidence that the role contributed to his injury.
Instead, it is the audience which sometimes feels like it is taking the strain in the hurtling life journey that the play relays of a humble, unnamed bank clerk who takes a journey to Berlin to spend 60,000 marks that he's just stolen from his employers, and seeking as he does so to find a purpose to life.
After Emil and the Detectives, also currently at the National, in which a small boy attempts to recover the rather smaller (but to him equally significant) sum of 140 marks that has been stolen from him by a stranger on a train bound for the same city, the machinations of money and its effect on people young and old are obviously high on the National's thoughts at the moment.
But are theatrical adventures of sorts. In Emil, the title character is trying to find the money; in From Morning to Midnight, the lead character is trying to find himself. The play, written in 1912 but only first performed in 1917, is a theatrical rarity, and as diligent as it is for the National to produce it now, it is only intermittently rewarding, and mostly thanks to a stunning production by Melly Still that gives it far more weight and impact than it deserves. Soutra Gilmour, one of our busiest and most eloquent stage designers, gives it sets that revolve and even levitate (at one point with an actor still clinging to it); there are also elaborate projection designs (Andrzej Goulding), stunning lighting by Bruno Poet and expressive movement (Al Nedjari).
Like Candide, also newly revived in London, it's a play about an existential crisis and a search for fulfillment. It is done with flamboyant style but it ultimately lacks heart, even as Adam Godley's Clerk seeks to find exactly what his own heart's desire is. All he seems to find here is that money alone, as always, can't buy you happiness. But it can, at least, buy you huge production values.
"There are moments of dark humour, but this is a production that leaves you feeling far worse when you leave the theatre than you did when you went in."
Charles Spencer for The Telegraph
"It's impressive but overblown ..."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"I wouldn't call it a great play but ... it offers an exhilarating antidote to the restraints of naturalistic theatre.."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"It’s not an easily accessible evening but it’s one that amply rewards audience effort."
The Evening Standard