In The Dead of Night

Reviewer's Rating

Ever wondered what a classic Film Noir from the back end of the 1940’s would have been like shorn of that bulwark against the licentiousness and sexual depravity of Hollywood, The Hays Code and allowed instead to be full of the sorts of stuff that makes life worth living?

No? Well, I have to admit neither had I, but the answer would appear to be a whole lot of fun, in the shape of Claudio Macor’s In The Dead of Night which has just opened at Clapham’s Landor, and runs until 16th May.

It is the story of Elvira, a former tart-with-a-heart (Judith Paris in fine form though unfortunately ill served in the costume department) who now has her own bar-come-brothel, Bar Tangueros, in La Rocca, a shanty-town between the river and the rainforest deep in the coca-producing interior of an unnamed South American country where the sexuality of both staff and clients seems to be as fluid as the home-made tequila she serves in her saloon.

Elvira’s sideline in coca leaves brings her into contact with putrid underdog Martinez (an astonishingly good, and completely unrecognisable Ross Harper Millar) who not-so secretly has the hots for her in between drinking himself into a stupor whilst simultaneously being invisible enough that he is able to insinuate his way into everyone’s business.

Elvira’s little stable of whores covers all tastes and includes the long-legged vamp, Rita (Suzannah Allman) and the even longer-legged Adonis-like Massimo (the imposing Jordan Alexander, complete with shaven oiled chest, more of which later).

The great love of Massimo’s life, Leandro (Matt Mella, making a very assured debut) returns, though unfortunately his father, head of a multi-national drug cartel, is a little less than impressed by the boys’ choice of partner, and has cut him out of his life.

Unfortunately daddy’s also decided to do away with La Rocca and everyone in it, and Martinez discovers this and goes to warn Elvira, but she won’t listen, preferring instead to hope she will be protected by her former lover who is now the local chief of police, Falchi (Ned Wolfgang Kelly, another assured and impressive performer making his stage debut).

A stranger comes to town in the form of Raoul (Tristan Robin) and sweeps the long legged Rita off her feet.

That’s about as far as I can go without giving away the ending, suffice to say lots of stuff happens, and if I have any criticism of the piece it’s just that: it’s too heavy on plot with not enough story.

Macor writes dialogue which is often snappy, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, though a couple more passes on his leading characters would have paid dividends, as would incorporating a proper three act structure into the piece, which a successful Hollywood film noir from the period would certainly have had.

That having been said, there’s a lot to enjoy about the show, not least the choreography.

The dance between Pedro, Alvaro, and Juanita (Joshua Clare, Danny Harris, and Victoria Sheffield respectively, with another stage debut from the talented Sheffield) not far into act two is some of the finest movement I think I’ve ever seen outside the West End, let alone at The Landor, and the touching, finely drilled and thrillingly masculine tango between Leandro and Massimo, the muscular and bare chested Matt Mella and Jordan Alexander, in act one as they declare their love for each other is mesmerizingly, stiffy-inducingly homoerotic, and judging by the reaction of the ladies in the row behind me wasn’t intended to reach out only to middle-aged gay men…

Paul Boyd’s score is tuneful if it does at times feel slightly at odds with the 1946 timeline, and there are a couple of nice lighting effects in Richard Lambert’s design, including the mesmerising illumination of a swirl of smoke around a doorway which opens the show which was beautiful in its simplicity.

As it is this show isn’t ‘West-End ready’ but it’s a lot of fun, and it’s good to see it on its feet. I only hope Macor, and his trusting producer Andrea Leoncini, can now stand back and take the steps necessary to take it to the next level, first of which in my opinion would be to employ a dramaturge to help them get the superstructure into shape.