****STARS

By Ash Cottrell

When Friday night’s unavoidable, seriously frustrating, bumper-to-bumper Melbourne traffic means that you miss the start of the play, you don’t expect to be drawn into the world quite as much as if you’d gotten there on time. Lucky for me and kudos to The Midnight Gang, from the moment I was in my seat and became accustomed to the adorable hum of excited children’s laughter and whispers, I was on the hook. The world of David Walliams’, The Midnight Gang was brought to life on stage expertly by CDP Kids, written for the stage by Maryam Master and directed by Susanna Dowling.

Let it be said that the spectacle was not just reserved for the children here, there was plenty for the adults, including but not limited to, the distinguished elegance of the venue itself, Regent Theatre on Collins Street. Casting my eyes upward to the breathtaking chandelier, I pondered how much it would have captivated my imagination as a child. It looked like something you’d imagine yourself seeing at Buckingham Palace. I suppose when you spend somewhere in the vicinity of 19.4 million on a refurbishment, you’re expect to deliver the goods. Good one Marriner Group.

In truth, I left the wonder and excitement of children’s books where I first found them, in my childhood. So, it’s of no surprise that I hadn’t heard of The Midnight Gang or even David Walliams, for that matter, despite his prolific career. My memory of children’s books from the nineties is actually largely from my parent’s generation, The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, The Magic Faraway Tree. Of course, I was hooked on Goosebumps, The Saddle Club, The Baby-sitters Club and Paul Jennings, like any other self-respecting child of the nineties. And, upon reflection, not a lot has changed. The stories still have all the right moral lessons. The good guys always win and truth and kindness prevail. Suffice to say, all of that warm and fuzzy stuff appears to be alive and kicking in the current crop of kid’s storytelling. In fact, it was difficult to leave The Midnight Gang without a sense of wellbeing, a sense of connectedness.

In short, the show was great. The lighting, blocking and costumes were all on point and at one of the more thrilling moments of the performance, the window that formed part of the backdrop, opened onto an exhilarating cityscape. Sirens, chaos and a miniature speedboat created not only the most visually spectacular moment in the production, but also the most comedic and exhilarating. My only criticism was that, given the story encapsulated moments where the characters were in flight, I was disappointed not to see the actors on the wires. I kept looking upwards, to see if they were hooked up, but alas, they stayed on the stage. Despite this, the set design allowed for inferred levels and spaces outside the hospital walls, in which it was set.

The ensemble cast were all good and despite the predictable histrionics of children’s theatre, I’m pleased to report that the acting was not only tolerable (for a cynical thirty-something) but engaging and heart-warming. If pushed for a favourite, I’d have to say, Nicholas Starte, who played an impressive slew of characters, George, Doctor and Sir Quentin.

The adaptation for the stage worked well and while I haven’t read the book, I can only imagine it takes its young audience on a journey through the imagination with all the right stuff, a group of kids playing dress-ups and make-believe after the lights go out.

My post-show-research revealed that David Walliams is fast becoming one of the UK’s best-selling children’s authors. It’s a great shame this show only played for two nights at Regent Theatre. Their website indicates its doping the rural Victorian rounds and I do hope they come back to Melbourne for another tour visit.

For one whole hour last Friday night, I was transported to a simpler time. A time without QR codes, deadlines and disappointments. Thank you, The Midnight Gang, for allowing me to let me imagination run wild for a night, back to the corners of my memory dedicated to my childhood imaginings. It was glorious.

 

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