Depending on their age group, there are two authors young readers are guaranteed to have heard of: Julia Donaldson and David Walliams. It’s no surprise, then, that both have been adapted for the TV multiple times, with Walliams’ books brought to the screen by both Sky and BBC. Now, the Beeb’s at it again with The Midnight Gang, a darkly charming comedy-drama about a hospital that’s far from what the doctor ordered. At least, not on the surface.
We head to the hospital with Tom (Oliver Zetterström), a young, lonely boy who winds up on the kids’ ward because his headmaster has bowled a cricket ball at his head. Walliams is clearly have a ball as the villainous school boss, although he’s a grotesque adult too many in a story that’s already got enough. Fortunately, Walliams knows not to take away from the core of his own tale, and keeps the focus firmly on the hospital’s patients.
They include Robin (Josh Gottlieb), George (Jordan Cramond), Sally (Zaris-Angel Hator) and Amber (India Brown), who’s effectively their leader. They’re watched over by the nervous Dr. Luppers (Amit Shah), the sinister Matron (Haydn Gwynne), and the seemingly creepy, disfigured porter (Alan Davies) – and they, in turn, are watched over by the useless Sir Quentin, played with hilarious selfishness by Mark Heap.
The kids are all fantastic, played with verve, charm and sympathy, and they’re supported by an impressive adult cast. After stealing the show in Final Score, it’s a treat to see Amit Shah once again displaying his superb comic timing, while Gwynne’s Matron is delightfully foul and every flavour of horrid. Alan Davies, though, is the welcome surprise of the bunch, as his porter turns out to be not the monster his outward appearance would suggest: he is, in fact, the Willy Wonka to Matron’s Nurse Ratched, meeting up with The Midnight Gang after hours to bring the kids’ wishes to life. From orchestras and North Pole adventures to learning to fly, he’s a hunchbacked hero whose escapades and ideas are matched by a gloriously low-fi direction and production design, which recall Michel Gondry in their cheap but creative way to realise the impossible.
By the end of the whole thing, you’ll be weeping at the beauty of showing one child their whole life in a single evening, and giggling at the spectacle of a pensioner floating across the London skyline. The hospital might be a nightmare, but this double dose of kindness and imagination is prescription viewing for audiences of all age.
The Midnight Gang is available on BBC iPlayer until November 2019.