EFR - Reviews of Midnight Café

Midnight Café

Mon 17th – Sun 30th August 2015

reviews

Hannah Matthews

at 09:55 on 20th Aug 2015

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Midnight Café follows the lives of several customers in a Milton Keynes café only open between 12am and 3am. The basis of the story is original and intriguing as we discover the reason our protagonists are in the café on one ill-fated evening.

The show is introduced through a clever pre-recorded narration intertwined with radio music that was subtle and skilful. At times this narration was a little fast making it difficult to follow as the play is not in sequential order. The first half was a little slow, the stories seemed inconsequential after the arresting start. However, the pace was saved by Jemma Cleary’s (Sari) confessions to the waitress that were both interesting and thought provoking.

The café is permanently situated on the stage, which appeared to make it difficult for the actors to bring on extra set for external scenes. When they did so the stage appeared crowded and messy. Such changes were almost not needed as the stories would have been interesting enough just being told to the waitress (as demonstrated in Sari’s scenes). I felt throughout that the play as a whole might have benefited from increased simplicity. Characters such as Maureen, never entered the café and her story could really have been omitted.

Anna Clart, played the inquisitive waitress and her performance was haunting although the full brilliance of the character was not displayed until the very end. Her performance is one that has continued to haunt me after this play and she should be praised for her delivery of an incredibly complex character. Equally, Patrick Brooks' performance of Twells evoked sympathy and compassion for his very troubled character. Jemma Cleary too is able to expose the raw emotion behind her character Sari.

All members of the production team should be commended for this show, particularly its performance in such a tight space. Jamie Rycoft’s writing shows great promise and with a few tweaks this should could become a must see of fringe student theatre.

The Midnight Café shows great promise. It is skilfully crafted with an array writing and acting talent. For an unusual and clever concept with intriguing characters and a haunting performance, I would thoroughly recommend the Midnight Café.

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Catherine Crook

at 09:59 on 20th Aug 2015

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The Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club’s production of new play Midnight Café charts the lives of those who walk the streets of Milton Keynes at night, an examination of the marginalised underbelly of society. All of these night-walkers magically convene in the Midnight Café that stays open until the early hours, providing a home away from home for a variety of characters. One is grieving, one is secretly posh, and all are trying to make sense of their lives – but inorexably, all of them return to the same location. Following the lives of its customers, the night seems its usual depressing self – until one customer shows up with a gun, and the customers’ stories begin to unravel.

The minimal coffee-shop set-up with an IV drip teetering in the corner, always hinting at injury or fatality, created a distinct aura of menace onstage that set the scene well for this exploration of a city at night. Throughout, the stifling city is portrayed as a dead-end ‘circuitboard’, with people circulating but never quite leaving; and the oppressive nature of this fictitious Milton Keynes (as someone who lives nearby, it’s not that bad) is something that is communicated well through the set.

Although an interesting technique, the disparate strands of narrative for each character were so entirely disjointed that I found it hard to fully engage or sympathise particularly with the emotional overflow from the characters. The second half ran more sharply as the strands began to tie together, but for me, was still bogged down in its lamenting of the tyrannous Milton Keynes skyline. Midnight Café attempts to ask many questions about the nature of sanity, but the overuse of tropes when portraying its neuroatypical characters never fully delivers; the potential for a real nuanced portrait of the relationship between mental illness and class was there, but instead, we received people ‘hearing voices’ and hysterically wielding guns.

In terms of performance, Jemma Cleary as the grieving twin Sari was excellent, her monologue about constantly being compared to sister Sally a touching moment. Rhodri Hughes as the boss of Clearbrite also stood out in a piece of much-needed comic relief, an amusing Donald Trump-esque human embodiment of capitalistic avarice at its most intense. The ensemble cast in general were all strong performers, from Ronald Prokeš’ posh boy with a relentless dewy-eyed optimism to Anna Clart’s waitress, methodically documenting the tales of all her café’s customers with questionable motives.

Nevertheless, writer Jamie Rycroft and director Amelie Oakley should be commended for their creativity, the play possessing a real potential to say something more. Overall, Midnight Café was an interesting exploration of mental illness and how the night-walkers of a city often get left behind; but for me, lacked the overall coherency to make any real thoughtful impact.

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