Acclaimed choreographer Matthew Bourne is bringing his latest dance production The Midnight Bell to Yorkshire

A Hackney-born, Walthamstow educated Knight of the Realm, I’m really not sure why Matthew Bourne is someone we seem to have taken to our collective hearts in Yorkshire theatre.

A publicity shot for The Midnight Bell which comes to Sheffield Lyceum and York Theatre Royal this month.
A publicity shot for The Midnight Bell which comes to Sheffield Lyceum and York Theatre Royal this month.

The choreographer who this year celebrates five years since becoming a sir, has seemingly no White Rose credentials, and yet his company and its extraordinarily accessible productions have somehow become a part of our theatre fabric.

It’s like Kneehigh theatre company, resolutely Cornish and yet, by virtue of their performances at Leeds Playhouse, became a company that were somehow part-claimed by God’s Own County.

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Sir Matthew – actually, he prefers not to use the title – Bourne’s New Adventures company is, to put it bluntly, one of the most successful British theatre companies to have been created in the past two decades.

Choreogrpaher Matthew Bourne. (Getty Images).

Oliviers, Tonys, Drama Desk Awards, Bourne has cleaned up almost of them and on he goes.

One of the reasons it feels like there is something Yorkshire about this company is that he has been bringing his award-winning work to the Bradford Alhambra for well over a decade.

A theatre that has made an impressive commitment to bringing world- class dance to the region over the past decade and a half, New Adventures has always had a home in the West Yorkshire venue.

Unfortunately because of Covid and the nightmare of rescheduling, Bourne’s latest nationally touring show isn’t heading to Bradford, but fans of the master’s work will be relieved to hear that the annual Bourne fix is heading to Yorkshire, stopping off in Sheffield this week and then coming to York at the end of the month.

New Adventures’ popular Second World War-set Cinderella. (Picture: JOHAN PERSSON).

The latest production is The Midnight Bell, inspired by the work of English novelist and playwright Patrick Hamilton, whose acclaimed books like Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky and Hangover Square centred around working-class London folk and were published mainly from the 1920s to the 1950s.

Set in the early 1930s, Bourne’s version brings together a bunch of characters from different novels and wonders what would happen if they all went to the same pub, namely the Midnight Bell of the title.

“It’s going to be a really intimate experience,” he says. “Audiences will get a strong connection with the characters, an emotional experience, with a few laughs along the way. And I hope they’ll be delighted by the playfulness of it. I want them to be delighted not just by the story itself but also by the way we tell it.”

The way he tells it has been key to the success of Bourne’s company. Taking stories and retelling them with exquisitely articulate dance is what New Adventures has been built around.

Edward Scissorhands, Play Without Words, The Red Shoes and Swan Lake, New Adventures productions have received numerous international awards including six Olivier Awards from 12 nominations. Swan Lake alone has collected more than 30 international awards and Bourne is the most honoured British director-choreographer of all time.

Yorkshire audiences have seen Car Man, Nutcracker and a wartime Cinderella in recent years. This time around, drawing inspiration from Hamilton’s work, Bourne has veered away from a straight retelling of an already existing tale.

Set in the early 1930s, Bourne’s version brings together a bunch of characters from different novels and wonders what would happen if they all went to the same pub, namely the Midnight Bell of the title.

“The characters are desperately seeking social contact, and that’s a theme that definitely resonates now. People are seeking to reconnect after spending so much time in lockdown,” he says.

“It’s interesting because it’s almost like we’re all out of practice. I’ve spoken to people who feel like a fog comes over them when they’re out in public and these characters are trying

to break through that sort of foggy loneliness that can take you over.”

Hamilton’s London is not a side of the era we usually see on stage. Rather than the glamorous cocktail-sipping bright young things favoured by Noel Coward, the characters are “resolutely unglamorous” everyday people. And stylistically, they’re more Peaky Blinders than Private Lives.

“With the pub setting and the characters, I’d say it’s very much like Peaky Blinders with the brown and gold colours, the hats, the style that’s a great style but not glam in any way. It’s very much a working-class world.’

Just as people were desperate to get back to pubs when lockdown eased earlier this year, Bourne believes they’re also craving live shows. “And I think they’re especially excited about things that are fresh. I know I am. I think they’re dying to get back not just to a live experience but a new live experience.”

Bourne is humble about why the company’s work has been so revered.

“But I think our focus on storytelling is an important part of it. Plus, if I take myself out of the equation and look at it from the outside, it’s a company that came out of nowhere and has become one of the country’s biggest touring theatre companies.

“We sort of became an institution quite quickly through the work we do, the stories we tell and the audiences we reach. It’s a British success story, working mostly with British-trained talent, and I’m really proud of that.”

Midnight Bell in Sheffield and York

New Adventures’ latest production The Midnight Bell: Intoxicated Tales from Darkest Soho explores the underbelly of 1930s London life where ordinary people emerge from cheap boarding houses nightly to pour out their passions, hopes and dreams in the pubs of fog-bound Soho and Fitzrovia.

At Sheffield Lyceum, to September 25. To book tickets visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call the box office on 0114 2496000.

York Theatre Royal, September 30 to October 2. To book tickets visit www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or call the box office on 01904 623568.