The Midnight Gang, Chichester Festival Theatre, review: ‘Deserving of the standing ovation’

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Chichester Festival Theatre’s winter offerings are here and their latest offering is Bryony Lavery’s musical-theatre adaptation of David Walliams’ book, The Midnight Gang.

Like many of my age I’m very aware of Walliams’ televisual presence but not so of his bridging the gap between that and the world of children’s literature.

The Midnight Gang tells the story of five hospitalised children who find themselves under the control of a dictatorial – and more than sadistic – matron. They escape her Draconian regime by sneaking out of the ward at night and, with the help of the nameless hospital porter, living their dreams to the best of their imaginative and creative ability.

Walliams has a superb eye for the absurd (witness Little Britain) and this is strongly to the fore, here – superbly evidenced by the scene where a little old lady ends up floating over the city, naked, under a mass of helium-filled balloons.

The cast are uniformly good. The children performing on Press Night were Cody Molko as hero Tom, Jasmine Sakyiama (Amber), Rafi Essex (George), Felix Warren (Robin) and Cerys Hill (Sally) – all sure-voiced, sure-footed and more-than-able actors – and deserving of the standing ovation they received.

Dickon Gough, as the porter, and Matthew Cavendish as Doctor Luppers are wonderful, but everyone pales before Jennie Dale’s superbly evil Matron.

The songs are catchy and not forced and the joy of the bitter-sweet ending will have you floating out of the theatre under Walliams’ balloon, filled with the helium of his wonderful imagination.