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Midsummer

By • West End
WOS Rating:
Midsummer is the shortest night of the year, but the show Midsummer has demonstrated surprising longevity. First performed at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre in October 2008 and a big hit at the following year's Fringe, David Greig and Gordon McIntyre's little 'play with songs' has since transferred to London's Soho Theatre and toured Ireland, Scotland, Canada and the USA. Not bad for a piece so firmly routed in its writers' home patch, an ode to Edinburgh's highs, lows and romantic possibilities.

Returning to London for another two months at the Tricycle, has it lost any of its pulling power? It would seem not. The story of mismatched thirysomethings Helena and Bob (Cora Bissett and Matthew Pidgeon) is at once so local and so universal that anyone can relate to the questions at its heart: "Will I achieve anything in life?"; "Can I love?" and "Is this it?"

Creativity rescues it from possible cliche. From the outset, this was a collaboration between writers, cast and its hugely inventive designer, Georgia McGuinness, and it shows. That ensemble use every narrative device available to them, from flashback to film trailer to an audience-participation conference inside Bob's head. Costumes and props are put to great effect. Even the guitars that strum out McIntyre's ballboyesque ditties also become punches in a fist-fight.

Bissett and Pidgeon are great comedians as well as accomplished actors and there's a workshop feel to the production that takes away none of its charm. It can feel lightweight at times - so much happens in the course of one weekend and then again so little. But equally, there are moments where the emotional truth almost winds you: the light touch of Helena's hand on Bob's arm in bed, their comfortable silence as they sit in a piss-streaked shelter by Edinburgh Castle. And rather like Midsummer night, time suspends itself. This is no dream, but two of the most real and entertaining hours of theatre I've seen in a while.

- Nancy Groves


Please note: This FIVE-STAR review is from the production's run at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow in October 2010.

A lost weekend of stolen money, expensive champagnes and goth kids with tambourines, David Greig and Gordon McIntyre’s exceptional Midsummer is the funniest production of the year.

Helena and Bob are you and I. They meet in a trendy bar in which they do not belong, find each other in the hazy reflection of a wine-cooler and spend the evening frankly revealing the ulterior motives and subtexts of relationships.

Relationships, it suggests, are to be analysed, their peaks and troughs plotted on a graph. This is an awkward truth that Greig’s self-depricating script returns to again and again. Cocksure and confident, Midsummer pumps up its chest like a drunken flirt before gleefully reaching into its pocket for a pin and savagely deflating itself.

As the mismatched lovers, Cora Bissett and Matthew Pidgeon are extraordinary. Flitting from guitar to ukulele and shape shifting from character to character, this incredible pair fills the stage in a way that a one-hundred strong ensemble could not, delivering the material with all of the conviction of stand-up and performing some of the most moving folksongs in Scottish theatre with affectingly heavy hearts..

Georgia McGuinness’s design is richly inventive. Based around a bed frame, it keeps sex at the centre of the discourse, allowing the script to analyse the changing significance of a one night stand. Carrying all of the hidden meaning of Tracey Emin’s “My Bed”, it is warmly complimented by Claire Elliot’s perfectly conceived lighting design.

A must see.

- Scott Purves


Please note: This FOUR-STAR review is from the production's run at Soho Theatre in January 2010.

David Greig and Gordon McIntyre describe their delightful two-hander Midsummer as “a play with songs” and it breaks all the rules of rom-com musical theatre, starting with a drunken encounter and wild sex, unravelling as an adventure story over one summer weekend in a rain-lashed Edinburgh.

The piece was hatched as an informal experiment at the Traverse Theatre 15 months ago and enlivened the Fringe programme at last year’s Edinburgh festival. Greig is the director, his actors, then as now, are Cora Bissett as the singleton lawyer and Matthew Pidgeon as the recently divorced small time criminal.

“Love will break your heart” is the opening number, the actors accompanying themselves on acoustic guitar, later downsizing to ukuleles. Every song, not least the one about Japanese rope bondage, springs a pleasant surprise. The narrative is told mostly in the third person, so that the characters are both recounting what happened and reflecting on it.

Bissett’s Helena has to focus her weekend, chaotically, around a family wedding she nearly forgot about, while Pidgeon’s Bob is on the run from a threatening garage owner with £15,000 in a Tesco’s plastic bag.

Bob is also hitting 35, prompting an off-the-wall “Bob” conference and a poignant encounter with his young son (played by Bissett) on a football field. So there’s a “how will life shake out” mood colouring the “lost weekend” lunacy, which sees the couple flying round town, falling in with a bunch of Goths, flopping in a huge bedroom at the Balmoral Hotel and facing the future on a ferry to Zeebrugge.

The actors are enchanting, the songs melodic and mordant, the staging witty and resourceful in Georgia McGuinness’ design. Bob evades his pursuers in Princes Street by ordering a whole row of customers to their feet so he can rush along them clutching the plastic bag. I loved this show in Edinburgh and love it still.

- Michael Coveney


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