“Well that was a bit odd” says the hero of Georg Kaiser’s From Morning to Midnight. It is intended as a cutting understatement and it is: what started as an ordinary day (go to work, stamp papers, go home) has turned into something altogether bizarre: our hero (known only as the Clerk) steals money on the mistaken promise of love, goes on the run, seeks spiritual salvation and destroys himself. Oddness is the word of the day in the National Theatre production, directed by Melly Still. Does it amount to more than an oddity? I am not sure.
The play (an example of the German expressionist movement at the beginning of the 20th century, here in a new version by Dennis Kelly) centres around a man’s struggle to ascertain humanity and individuality against the crashing forces of the state. But the production pits the characters’ emotional life against style and it’s a losing battle. The over-stylised action – from fidgety perpetual movement to static tableaux – crashes the internal life of the characters. As an audience member, I was struggling to hold onto the story and propel myself forward. Individual moments of beauty and intrigue (a door frame hanging in the air, a train passing through people’s lives) exist in isolation.
Adam Godley, with his extraordinary ability to be compelling through any ordinary thought or action, gives the Clerk internal life and pathos, but he is often sidelined at the edges of a theatrical universe too busy, almost too pleased with itself to allow him in. The remaining actors play a variety of roles, and the engagement with the characters becomes more difficult: much of the play felt a parade of moments, some compelling, some dull, some banal, but with no emotional or intellectual connection.
In the end, one question remains: should a play preoccupied with the isolation of the individual get life through a production that reinforces disengagement?
P.S: Due to injury Adam Godley is not currently performing (in fact, the performance I saw was his last before his enforced absence). The role of the Clerk is played by understudy Jack Tarlton. Adam Godley will return to the production after he recuperates from a torn muscle operation.