Yesterday marked the end of a remarkable set of performances at Manchester’s Lass O’Gowrie pub by a small group of very talented actors who had been brought together to present a production of Russell T Davies’ Midnight.
With full approval from the man himself and any dialogue that would see the lead name himself as “the Doctor” excised for copyright reasons, I was fortunate enough to see the matinée performance on Saturday.
Long-term readers of Kasterborous will know that we’re good friends with Gareth Kavanagh, co-producer of the show and landlord of the venue. They should also know that we “call a spade a spade” (as we say in Yorkshire) and that if this show was a damp squib we’d be telling you.
So what are we telling you? Basically that someone should start a campaign to get this group of players touring the country and Doctor Who conventions with 50 minutes of tense, thrilling and awe-inspiring drama.
It’s remarkable to think that just because you know an actor’s name through their regular television performances that they aren’t necessarily the best in their field, or that there isn’t someone else out there who can deliver a performance with the same confidence, ability and timing. Making comparisons to the original TV version of Midnight perhaps wouldn’t be considered wise given the differences in budget bit given that this is a story based wholly on the drama of an increasingly tense situation it’s not something that we should shy away from here.
Directed by Brainne Edge, remarkable use is made of the limited space available in the pub’s small upstairs room (use of the downstairs area being restricted by performances of 2000AD‘s Halo Jones) with the audience sat in two rows and facing each other across an aisle – part of the cruiser set – while the seats for Dee Dee Blasco, Val and Biff Cane, Jethro, Professor Hobbs, Dr John Smith and of course Sky Silvestry are at the far end of the room.
This arrangement places the audience as close the action as you could possibly hope to be. I sat just inches from Zoe Matthews and Mike Woodhead performing the well-rehearsed famous moment of repetition and simultaneous dialogue from the episode, sweat trickling and hairs on the back of my neck tickling the ceiling above.
Now focussing on these two is doing a disservice to the excellent company around them – there isn’t a single person who doesn’t shine, and it’s even arguable that at least one of the players is superior to his TV counterpart. However, what you want to know is how Mike Woodhead copes with playing a version of the Doctor. I daresay you want to know how Zoe Matthews manages following in the footsteps of Lesley Sharp.
A great actress, Lesley Sharp tends to be cast in very similar roles when seen on TV. Midnight is no different while she is the unpossessed Sky Silvestry, but the moment she begins repeating the passengers on the cruiser is of course the moment when the episode moves from exciting and into the national consciousness – “the one where the woman copies the Doctor”. So how do you follow that?
Best ask Ms Matthews herself, because even if Lesley Sharp had been in that room herself it couldn’t have been more electrifying. Hypnotic and truly disturbing, this actress completely dominated the majority of the play; even with the shouts and cries of the passengers thrown into the mix. Amazing stuff.
Meanwhile Mike Woodhead took to the task of a man playing the Doctor in much the same was as Christopher Eccleston did. It’s a brave and potentially stupid comparison, given that the actor is clearly a northerner, but bear with me. Like Eccleston rejected the traditional look for a TARDIS-dwelling Time Lord so Woodhead has opted for a stripped-back appearance, discarding the Tenth Doctor’s suit and coat for something more akin to the sweater and leather jacket. Dressed in a scarf and combat trousers, Woodhead cuts a confident figure, his character as a traveller quick defined. He switches easily from cheerful nattering with the passengers to imposing his authority, falling from grace as Sky steals his voice and the occupants of the stranded cruiser turn on him.
With only a handful of performances as part of the Midwinter Lassfest, you’re too late to catch Midnight in the flesh. But if there is any future performance that you can travel to, I would recommend you make arrangements to do so the moment the anything is announced.