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Review: Midsummer (The Hub, Edinburgh International Festival)

David Greig's hit play with songs is revised for this year's Edinburgh International Festival

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
© Peter Dibdin

David Greig's Midsummer was one of the hits of the Edinburgh Festival in 2008. A quiet two-hander, accompanied by songs on acoustic guitars, it thrilled audiences at the Traverse and then went on to conquer the world, being translated into many languages and thus proving that a sensitive tale of two unhappy souls who find love and revelation over a wet midsummer weekend in Edinburgh has universal appeal.

So it must have seemed a brilliant idea for the author and the National Theatre of Scotland to expand it and to put it on at the Edinburgh International Festival, bringing it to an even wider audience in the hostile setting of the echoing chamber upstairs at The Hub. Under the music direction of Gordon McIntyre, the guitars are replaced with a noisy live band, while the actors are expanded to four, representing the protagonists Bob and Helena at the age of 35, when they met, and also in old age.

Unfortunately, this amplification fails on almost every level. It literally falters because the need to give the actors microphones, which then echo and blur, means that you can't hear Greig's clever, punchy dialogue. But it fails metaphorically too, as if the expansion tears the fine filigree lace of the playwright's creation, exposing its holes and somehow making the story coarser and less charming.

It begins at a wedding, with the table elaborately set for festivities. When this is stripped away, the tables beneath become the props supporting the action: the hotel beds, the Princes Street Garden shelters, the nightclubs where Bob and Helena drown their unhappiness in a sea of alcohol and activity and ultimately find a generous redemption. Kate Hewitt's direction consists mainly of keeping things going at a frantic pace, sending the characters scurrying up into the balcony in an attempt to fill the space. Jenny Ogilivie provides some equally frenetic choreography.

The humour of the piece just about survives, but not the warmth. It all feels shouted and rather desperate. Henry Pettigrew as the younger Bob emerges the best from the wreckage. It feels like a waste.

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