Midsummer Songs (Ipswich)

The New Wolsey Theatre of Ipswich has fine form playing on nostalgia and has produced many hits such as “Mods and Rox” and “20th Century Boy” which draw on the music of artists such as Marc Bolan and others.

Hannah Jarrett-Scott & Peter Peverley
Hannah Jarrett-Scott & Glenn Carter
© Mike Kwasniak Photography 2014

However, it was while writing the music for Mods and Rox' that the inspiration to produce an original piece of theatre which used original music came about. Midsummer Songs'' draws on its musical director Ben Goddard's personal experience of a wild post-university holiday where songs were sung and other riotous things occurred, as well as a subsequent reunion many years later, as the inspiration for this piece.

Rather than a simple musical, this is a play with actor-musicians performing. The first half feels a bit top-heavy with the "Side A" songs (those composed at the first stay at the cottage) being performed at the same time as trying to introduce the story and characters of this play.

The second half has a much better pace. The original set of friends – Alex Bourne, Glenn Carter, Adam Keast, Peter Peverley and Yvette Robinson – perform beautifully with a realistic natural chemistry. Peter Rowe has crafted a great script which delivers well-formed characters, to whom one can relate.

Partly this occurs through the delicate and intimate conversations between the different pairs . While there are some humorous lines sprinkled throughout, the dialogue itself is natural and not self-consciously clever. All these strong exchanges are delivered on a realistic, well-crafted set of the cottage; and the lack of scene changes enables the pace to be maintained.

In addition to the original set of friends played by a West End cast with impeccable pedigrees, Phylip Harries plays Dafydd the farmer renting out this cottage with great comedic talent.

A rising star is Hannah Jarrett-Scott whose background as a singer-songwriter is apparent as she gives many poignant performances that are truly goose-bump inducing especially the duet with Glenn Carter to raise the spirits of her chronically ill mother.

This is a solid piece of theatre which shows the New Wolsey leading musicals away from the clichéd jukebox format that is so prevalent around the West End and demonstrates that original theatre and strong performances can reach out to a mainstream audience.

Midsummer Songs continues at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 27 September.