Brighton Festival 2011
Midsummer – a play with songs, is about a couple of lost thirty somethings who happen across each other in a bar in Edinburgh. Sex ensues, and the play takes an enjoyable romp through their wild weekend of drink, spending and Japanese rope bondage.
My major criticism of the play is nothing to do with the performers so I will get it out of the way before I start praising the actual show. The space of the Theatre Royal in Brighton was wholly inappropriate for the nature of the play, and to my mind has quite an adverse effect on the success of the show. Midsummer, according to the programme was originally staged in a small intimate theatre in Edinburgh, which places the audience on three sides, very close to the action. This is what this production needs. The subject matter, the acoustic guitars and singing all lend themselves to a feeling of closeness to the performers, which the traditional proscenium arch style of the Theatre Royal is the antithesis of. As the performers do not use microphones when they sing, their strong voices sound thin and weak in the space, which is unfair – and I was sitting at the front of the stalls, so I dread to think what the people in the Gods would have heard. Furthermore, this play is certainly one which begs a wry smile of identification from its audience, which would ideally be slightly lost people in their thirties, or ones who have just got it sorted and can thank heavens it’s not them any more. It is therefore surprising that the play was received as well as it was by the usual Theatre Royal crowd of over fifties, but it certainly would have gone down even better with a younger audience at the Corn Exchange.
Aside from this programming faux pas, the show was a lot of fun. Following the chance encounter of a mismatched pair who meet in an Edinburgh bar on a rainy Midsummers eve eve, the play takes us on a local’s tour of the city from the glamorous bars of New Town to the seemier underbelly around Leith Walk.
Both lonely in their different ways, both searching for something – is it love? Neither of the central characters is wholly loveable which makes them far more interesting and much more real – most people will recognise something of themselves or a friend in Bob or Helena. Midsummer is a finely balanced mixture of comedy and pathos, peppered with the occasional song which the actors accompany themselves on the guitar. The songs are a nice addition to the piece, doing little to advance the story, but fitting in well with the style of delivery, where the characters narrate their actions in the third person – a distancing device which in a strange way makes you feel closer to them.
Not only a true and slightly painful picture of life as a single thirty-something, Midsummer is a good comedy and has a great storyline, albeit a little far fetched. I missed this show at the Edinburgh Festival when it premiered two years ago, and I am glad to have caught it now – it was worth the wait.