‘Midsummer (a play with songs)’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by November 21, 2013

‘Midsummer (a play with songs)’ was written by two Scots in their mid-forties; playwright David Greig, and composer and songwriter, Gordon McIntyre. Edinburgh born, David Greig was raised in Nigeria. This staunch Scottish independence supporter became a theatre director, and has been connected with many of the major National Theatres. His scripts range from the children’s play, ‘Tintin in Tibet’, to the adult play ‘Caligula’.

Composer Gordon McIntyre was for several years in the Scottish, post-punk band ‘Ballboy’. McIntyre explains that the songs do not tell the story (as in opera), but expresses the feelings of the characters – his play with songs – besides ‘the term ‘opera’ or ‘musical’ can frighten away the punters!’

First performed at the 2009 Edinburgh Festival, this hilarious Black Swan State Theatre Company presentation is showing at the Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA, 176 William Street, Northbridge.

The 90-minute performances run nightly at 7.30 until Saturday 23rd. There are matinees on Saturday the 16th and 23rd November at 2.15, with one Sunday matinee on the 24th November at 5.00 pm.

It is the Midsummer long-weekend, and in an Edinburgh pub a lonely, attractive young woman, Helena (Georgina Gayler) a divorce lawyer, is sitting alone. Across the room, she sees a scruffy man, Bob (Brendan Hanson). Bob is a bland man with no particularly desirable features; he is also drinking alone and so, fancying a ‘bit of ruff’, Helena asks if she can join him. Bob cannot believe his luck, but he shares a few wines – and hopes his dreams will come true.

Next morning it becomes obvious that their quick ‘one night stand’ is not going to be that simple. As the friendship builds, we learn their secret thoughts about each other and their screwed-up lives in general.

For the whole, ridiculous, decadent and wild weekend, we follow them through the historic streets of Edinburgh, as they create their own hysterical history.

The accents were indeed from Edinburgh (as is my wife), slightly shaky, but most admirable as the two superb actors kept up the characterisation for the full 90-minutes. At least they did not fall for the mistake of having a Billy Connelly-style Glasgow accent. Congrats, go to accent coach Julia Moody.

There are many references to areas and buildings in Edinburgh, and so the Edinburgh Festival programme included a map of their adventures. Some of the jokes were very local such as ‘I appeared on Radio Four (our equivalent to 720), well actually it was Radio Forth (originally a pirate pop station)’ which, not surprisingly, the audience missed.

The small group at side of the stage supplied the live music. With Andrew Weir (guitar), Harry Oliff (bass and keyboard), Elliot Smith (drums) and the leader was sound designer, Ben Collins (sax, synthesiser and percussion). The songs were solos in the folk-singing genre. I would have liked to see more made of the music, although the last two numbers were excellent as they allowed the gifted couple to show their talents in this field.

Fiona Bruce’s set was straight from a typical, down market Edinburgh pub, with its scruffy oak frames around coloured glass. Fiona has created numerous alcoves and cupboards for minor props to be hidden. Every few seconds yet another hilarious prop would appear, there must have been a great deal of fun producing Bob’s friend. Fiona’s costumes were boring for ‘featureless’ Bob, along with a gorgeous bridesmaid dress for Helena.

Trent Suidgeest, lighting designer, had a slightly easier run than usual, but still created plenty of atmosphere, from the dark, wet streets to sunrise on the Forth.

The cast of two had to carry out all of the scene shifting, speak with an Edinburgh accent, perform puppetry, sing, be dramatic actors but most of all be madcap comedians. There was a strong chemistry as they adeptly flowed through the demanding script. Director Damon Lockwood, who has worked many times on Improvisation with George, encouraged their cheeky humour that kept the show fresh.

The show’s trailer on Facebook and Vimeo is well worth watching.

A very funny, sexy show, with a down to earth portrayal of lower life in Edinburgh, all delivered with an enormous amount of energy and talent. Many congratulations.