Midsummer (a play with songs)

David Greig and Gordon McIntyre
Traverse Theatre Company
Soho Theatre

Publicity photo

Good plays get under the skin of viewers; the finest of plays find their way directly into people's hearts. Midsummer, which comes into the latter category, is pretty much as enjoyable as a two-hander could hope to be.

Unusually for Edinburgh Fringe fare, which often disappoints when it hits the bright lights of London, Midsummer seems deeper and richer on second viewing, even in the unkindest of bleak midwinters.

This play with music works on a number of different levels, as love story, Edinburgh guide, drama and beneath-the-surface philosophical treatise considering the middle-class, thirty-something experience today.

Greig, who also directs, and his folk-influenced songster Gordon McIntyre are very well served by two excellent performers, Cora Bissett and Matthew Pidgeon. They not only play the central characters, Helen a lawyer and Bob a would-be poet turned petty criminal, but also a whole host of other citizens, good and bad. As if that were not enough, the pair also play a mean series of duelling guitars and sing tunefully to boot.

The story's starting point is the meeting on Midsummer Eve in a wine bar of a pair of lonely 35-year-olds in need of solace. The couple have an unlikely but hilarious one night stand and then get to know each other through the ensuing 100 stage minutes filled not only with wry comedy but down-to-earth philosophy and personal insight.

David Greig's brilliantly takes us into the minds of two very different people during a helter-skelter weekend in which they lose themselves and their inhibitions, with the possibility of permanent freedom at the end of the experience.

Along the way, Bob has to escape the fearsome clutches of a slightly less petty criminal, Big Tiny Tam Callaghan, who is more than a little put out at the loss of £15,000 in a Tesco's plastic bag. Helena's equivalent is her mildly autistic nephew Brendan who spills the beans after she spills the contents of her stomach on the cathedral steps when she should be on duty bridesmaiding for a sister who has come up trumps in the Internet dating stakes.

The story is told with energy and élan by the pair, rarely missing the opportunity for a belly laugh but also taking us into their souls with moments of pathos that could easily draw tears.

Perhaps the play's finest achievement is to populate the stage with a wide variety of characters that make up Edinburgh life, like a rather better bred version of the city's substrata immortalised by Irvine Welsh. Others may disagree and feel that the incisive analysis of the difficulties faced by lonely singles is more significant. Take your pick.

The great care that has gone into perfecting this production is most apparent in the way that carefully considered props supplement Georgia McGuinness's set, which simultaneously depicts the bedrooms of the protagonists. These include ropes (don't ask their use), clothing, an Elmo doll, a guitar-fist, question cards and most significantly, the imaginations of audience members, which are tested to a significant degree as the creative team build the overall impression.

David Greig is one of the most adventurous and best playwrights currently writing but even for him, Midsummer represents something very special. It is hard to recommend this exhilarating evening highly enough and readers are urged to get in touch with Soho Theatre as soon as possible because tickets will be at a premium.

Philip also reviewed this production at the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe and Seth Ewin reviewed it in Edinburgh in 2010. It was also reviewed by Howard Loxton at the Tricycle.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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