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Cora Bissett On ... Midsummer at the Tricycle

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David Greig and Gordon McIntyre’s popular ‘play with songs’ Midsummer is returning to London for a festive run at Kilburn's Tricycle Theatre, opening tomorrow (30 November, previews from 29 November) and continuing until 29 January 2011.

The show was first produced at the Traverse in 2008 and has since played the Edinburgh Fringe and toured internationally, including a sell-out run at the Soho Theatre earlier this year. The play's original cast of Cora Bissett as Helena and Matthew Pidgeon as Bob remain with the production.

Bissett has recently been combining her acting work with directing. Her play Roadkill, about the experiences of young women trafficked to Scotland, went on to win seven awards at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer. An immersive and site-specific show, where audiences were taken to see a woman's suffering first hand in a tenement flat, Roadkill won a Total Theatre Award, Herald Angel, Fringe First and the EIF Award. 

Midsummer originated five years ago, David Greig the writer had this idea that he wanted to do an off kilter workshop production. David is known for these big very cerebral, political, complex pieces and he just really wanted to have some fun. He wanted to do something he wasn’t normally known for, a little bit off the radar and with not too much pressure on it.

We had development week, with me and Matthew Pidgeon, David, the designer, and songwriter Gordon McIntyre. We spoke about lots of stories and personal anecdotes of failed relationships and crazy flings we have all had. We put a lot of personal details into the development week, and David has this wonderful way of making you feel comfortable in sharing your entire life in the rehearsal room. He quietly goes away and gathers it all it into his cunning plot - so tread carefully!

We didn’t come back together for about another year and developed it again. Then another year passed, it was just this little thing that kept trickling on, and then the Traverse were able to commission it. David had gone and written a 70-page two-hander, all based on the little bits we had done, and written into a full play. That was around 2008, so around two-and-a-half years ago we did the initial workshop production, flying by the seat of our pants in the Traverse in Edinburgh.

People loved it and we were all taken aback by its popularity. The show came to the festival in 2009 and we got some great touring out of that. We toured around Ireland and the Cork Festival, then Vancouver and Brussels. We did a month-long run at the Soho Theatre in London, and it keeps trickling on. I have literally this minute flown back from Washington were we did a week at the Kennedy Centre.

We weren’t sure if the Scottish colloquialisms would transfer, but they did get it. The show seems to have an ongoing life, its quite a heart-warming show - without being cheesy or too schmaltzy.

The most significant changes during all of the different productions are that Matthew and I have had a chance to mould right into the play. I have never had that luxury of repeating a show this may times, coming back to it so frequently. You just keep growing into the character.

I play a high flying divorced lawyer living in Edinburgh. Not my lifestyle! She is a woman in her 30's coming to terms with all the various decisions she has made in her life. Decisions over relationships and career. There is lots of stuff I can relate to. There are moments that are very personal and others that are completely the character. It's a nice little balance, but I don’t feel like it is psychoanalysis on stage.

There have been remountings of both Roadkill and Midsummer recently. It’s a bit crazy because you could not find two productions that are more polar opposites. One is a touching romantic comedy and the other people have been experiencing it as one of the most harrowing things they have ever seen. Roadkill was remounted for two weeks in conjunction with the Tron Theatre in Glasgow. Midsummer was on at the exact same time. It was kind of weird as I was re-rehearsing Roadkill with the cast during the day in a flat and literally stopping at six o’clock, jumping in my car and going on stage in Midsummer.

The future of both pieces is still up for discussion. I know they are still talking about the possibly of things in Australia and so many people in Washington were asking why Midsummer hadn't been to New York yet. Sometimes these things take time, but doors keep opening for us and the Traverse is keen for us to explore those. Midsummer still has some life in the old dog.

Roadkill also has a further life. One of the awards we won at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer was to take us to Adelaide. We are trying to build an Australian tour around that. The producer Richard Jordan is very much on board. We are talking to a festival in Los Angeles and are definitely doing Belfast next year. We are also very likely to bring the play down to London, probably in autumn next year.

The show was originally staged in a flat but we've considered trying to transfer it to studio spaces. A lot of people have asked, but I think the location is so integral to the piece and the whole experience. It wasn’t just a gimmick. I really, truly believe that being trapped in a flat with a young women trafficked to Scotland, to see what she is living through, to experience that with her, there is something about that proximity and intensity I just don’t think you could replicate on stage. It's not the most economical choice in the world, but that was the way it was created and I think I've got to stick to my guns on that.

I don’t think any of us expected Midsummer to go this far. David has a wonderfully wise adage to "just lower your expectations". We got that from an Irish comedian playing quirky Casio tunes on his keyboard that we went to see one night. He had a track called "Lower Your Expectations". That has kind of been our motto for the production. "Lets not get carried away with sales. It doesn’t mater how many standing ovations we get." If we all keep our expectations low, everything is a bonus.

Midsummer opens at the Tricycle Theatre on 30 November (previews from 29 November 2010) where it continues until 29 January 2011.


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