STC, MERRIGONG & TRAVERSE THEATRE COMPANY’S MIDSUMMER (A PLAY WITH SONGS)

You’d be hard pressed to come out of this show without a smile on your face. It’s a sweet, pacey wild romance (with songs) that enchants its audience in an otherwise Sydney theatre thematic month of misogyny.
‘Midsummer’ is a two hander play that explores an unlikely romance between two 35 year old Edinburgh locals, Bob- a man of squashed hopes and dreams currently earning a quid selling stolen cars, and Helena- sassy perpetual bridesmaid in the midst of an affair and a pregnancy scare. Their story starts with sex and moves into the morning of regret before their lives are drawn back together in a sordid spending spree, some colourful encounters, a bit of violence (did I mention they’re from and in Edinburgh?..) and into its inevitable conclusion. It’s nice. It’s a simple as that.
Writers David Greig (who also directs) and Gordon McIntyre have produced a tight energetic play, made all the more intimate by containing it to two actors and acoustic music played by its cast with songs that accompany the action instead of detracting from the narrative. As musician McIntyre states, “the musical numbers are not there to smack you over the head, they are there to touch your heart and make you feel an affinity and empathy with the characters.” Check.
One of my favourites would have been ‘the hangover song’ and audience seemed to guffaw with an appreciative understanding. And that’s one of the things this play does so well- it expresses the shared experiences and dilemmas of its characters and its audience. Sure, I’ve never been to a Japanese bondage room (yet) but I have been lost in an IKEA car park, took up running in my 30’s and been to enough weddings that would drive me to vomit too.
This is a play that understands its audience and there aren’t too many plays that can get away with using that many expletives and still have the blue rinse set enjoy it (maybe it’s the accent- everything seems funnier in a Scottish accent). What you can’t rely on with the oldies is to get them to stand up when you want to run down their aisle. Poor Matthew Pidgeon (who plays Bob) almost had to call in a crane to move people out of their seats. Hint for the future- they are in the process of standing, it just takes a long time since the hip replacement.
Now I know it seems I bang on in my reviews about the importance of choosing the right stage for the right show and here I go again….I wish I could have seen ‘Midsummer’ at the Edinburgh Festival in a more appropriate theatre space to enhance the connection between actors and audience. The Drama Theatre is far from ideal and connection had to be forced. If I had any misgivings of the play it was that the space makes it a hard slog to project energy all the way to the back and if you have a non-responsive crowd, the first few scenes feel a bit rehearsed and not organic. I can only imagine that if the audience were ‘on top’ of the set, it would have felt magical to have shared that weekend with Bob & Helena.
Georgia McGuinness’ set is an effective device and the actors Matthew Pidgeon and Cora Bissell are in control of it. I love the reveals and their ability to recreate space in how they use it. The connection and rapport between the actors is also one of the play’s great strengths. They are charming and spitfire their dialogue and asides with a cheeky warmth that allows us to relish the journey they go on as characters, their obstacles and their triumphs. Having said that, one of the loveliest moments in the play was when they broke the rhythm of the play by gently allowing the characters to rest in their hotel room in a lovely moment of ‘spooning’. It was there the audience took a breath, opened their hearts and really engaged in the romantic possibilities of this couple.
Bissell and Pidgeon play an array of characters in this play, all well-defined and infinitely likeable, even in their quirkiness. Sometimes poignant, sometimes comic- this is clever casting and performing and the actors seemed to be having fun and obvious chemistry throughout and this made the play all the more enjoyable for its audience and helped forgive the tyranny of distance in staging.
‘Midsummer’ delivers an engaging narrative and performance. No confusion. No nightmares. No questioning of the state of humanity. Just a cheeky little play that entertains audience, regardless of age or nationality and well worth a viewing.

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3 comments

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Kenney February 25, 2012 at 3:16 pm

You are so right about the drama theatre. It was the first thought I had in review.

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Debra February 27, 2012 at 12:39 am

I really hope it comes to Melbourne. Traverse Theatre blew my mind at the Edinburgh festival some years ago. The play title I cannot recall but it was about a pretender king, set in a dim, leaking underground cellar/dungeon (talk about performance space appropriateness) Its warmth and inventiveness, without a hint of pretension, and its transformative qualities made it the kind of excellence we should be aiming for. There is much we Aussie theatre makers can learn here in both process and product. Their warmth transforms to their attitudes about art making. They have a section "Send us your writing", because they acknowledge the threat of inward-looking processes and it keeps them in touch. Check them out! Link below. http://www.traverse.co.uk/

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Anonymous March 6, 2012 at 5:48 am

Thanks for your review, Jane. I too had a great night in the theatre as it seemed did everyone else around me. While STC and Belvoir theatre makers attempt to out 'cool' each other, enjoyable nights in the theatre like this seem few and far between. Here was a simple, beautifully constructed, theatrical piece with heart. But do we really need to import it? Into a festival, yes I understand, but our theatre companies? If it went well here imagine how well it would have been received in Edinburgh. Having been there and to the Traverse the piece felt very .. well .. Scottish. Artists writing pieces for their community. So the only sad thought I had on departure however was where is the Australian version of this show? Hopefully I'm wrong but I can't see a local script like this getting through the gatekeepers of these cool factories. But yet this type of content coming from the Traverse is deemed worthy of our stages. No doubt a lot of our talented local writers would be scratching their heads at this sort of programming. As am I. The cultural cringe alive and well.

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