Theatre review: From Morning to Midnight at the National Theatre
From Morning to Midnight, playing on the National Theatre’s Lyttelton stage, is an exhilarating production of Georg Kaiser’s nutty parable of a play.
Written in 1912, we open in a bank where daily life clacks past under a vast clock, the movements of savers and borrowers choreographed like the cogs of a great machine. Curiously, the money itself is always invisible, but we hear it rustle and clink in the hands of the anonymous clerk at the machine’s centre – who shocks everyone, including himself, by one day absconding with 60,000 Marks.
Perched up a tree in a snowy wilderness, his reputation ruined, his family destroyed, he whispers, absurdly, “I’m rich!”. And then, “I’ve not lived... I want to live a life. I want an experience that is worth the investment!”
So begins a doomed quest. The clerk, played by the excellent Adam Godley, hurls himself and his stolen wealth at every kind of experience, from high-roller bicycle races to sex and salvation.
Along the way a huge amount of fun is had, not least by the designer, Soutra Gilmour, who takes us brilliantly from vast billowing snowfields to an Edwardian family home, and from a superbly staged cycle race in a velodrome to a seedy cabaret club.
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One by one, each illusion is shattered in a production that is by turns funny, spectacular and grotesque. (Interestingly, Kaiser himself was once tried for theft after he sold furniture from his rented flat. He claimed that, as an artist, he was above the law; he got six months.)
The clerk at last rocks up at a mission where sinners confess on the penitents’ bench. Persuaded to give this, too, a go, he experiences his final revelation: “Money conceals worth... Money is the biggest fraud of them all.”
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But the penitents’ solidarity is short-lived. The final image of the play is a savage, blasphemous joke: a man in search of something of worth ends by destroying himself.