The Midnight Gang at Chickenshed Theatre Online
David Walliams is not one to conform, and nor are the spirited explorers in his story of boundless imagination. Chickenshed’s staging of The Midnight Gang speaks from the heart of five determined dreamers, and bursting with cheeky repartee and charisma, invites audiences of all ages on a delightful adventure.
Protagonist Tom lands himself in a children’s ward, unaware of the tradition that has stuck for years. Confined to bedrest by miscellaneous injuries, the gang patiently await midnight and the magic it holds. Tom is soon whisked away to the north pole of the freezer room: just one example of the extent both fantasy and a tactile set stretch to.
Heaps of hilarity characterise the exuberant hospital staff, whose competence is best exemplified in the doctor prone to blind panic at the mention of blood. The Trunchbull of a matron revels in inflicting terror on her crafty patients, who, to her dismay, are resourceful at reeling in their mischief in time for her explosive entries. Sarah Connelly is a mighty presence whose vocals certainly had an audience of children holding their breath.
But the sprightly explorers tackle grown-ups with unwavering morale, gallivanting under the spooky blue glow of a Gothic hospital set. Tom offers impulsive narration by turning to the audience, encouraging an interactive atmosphere. With chirpy sound effects that seem to bounce from the walls, the spontaneity of children is painted wonderfully.
This adventure tale, however, is laced with sadness, from parentless kids to the lonely porter, resident of the basement since childhood abandonment. It is hard not to root for these resilient musketeers, with every venture proving their beatings are no barrier to excitable ambition. The wonderment is endless for the audience too, with an old lady rocketing through the skylight echoing the gleeful peculiarities of Dahl’s Chocolate Factory. Quirky but caring, the porter brings us back down to the ground, spinning anecdotes on kindness and community, fears and friendships, to the admiration of the youngsters.
The finale sees a bittersweet parade of makeshift experiences for Sally, who is too ill to leave the dreary ward. Her companions envision the life she might lead if not bedbound, in a rollercoaster of first kisses and dream careers. The bond these kids find in their shared isolation is one of joy, but the reality is devastating for Sally, whose overwhelmed tears remind us that such a future may only ever live in her dreams.
This production is a whirlwind of curiosity and ever-growing aspiration, yet achieves heartbreaking honesty in the thread that unites these bold but essentially lonely kids. Silly humour aside, their camaraderie is touching, and charming evidence that you are never short of adventure when you dare to bend the rules.
Photo: Daniel Beacock