Midsummer (a play with songs) is exactly what contemporary theatre needs: a funny, fresh and gently joyous romantic play (with songs) that isn’t afraid to be either irreverent or poignant. The hit of 2009’s Edinburgh fringe, Australia is downright lucky to experience this production.
The tale of an epic lost weekend in Edinburgh, Midsummer introduces us to Helena and Bob. Helena and Bob are thirty-five and despite feeling similarly unfulfilled, appear to be an amazingly mismatched pair – a divorce lawyer and a petty criminal – who, after some dubious, drunken decision making at a wine bar, end up in bed together. After that, it all explodes in a mélange of cash, booze, wedding scandals and car chases – oh, and a little Japanese rope bondage, that’s in there too.
It’s a play with songs, not a musical, and the songs are there to explore with a gentler hand the feelings of the characters; songwriter Gordon McIntyre calls them “romantically bruised.” This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not funny – Helena proclaims in one number that if her hangover was a film it’d be “four hours long and… French,” and yes, there is a spoken-word piece set to music which is entirely a conversation between a man and his penis – but they are still beautiful indie numbers with clear, sweet Scottish harmonies.
With a whole city to traverse on an intimate stage, armed with guitars, Cora Bissett (Helena) and Matthew Pidgeon (Bob) will command your attention and open your heart. They are fearlessly funny and fearlessly vulnerable, sometimes in the same breath. Cameoing other characters (Pidgeon’s portrayal of Helena’s young nephew and Bissett taking on Bob’s shady criminal bosses are highlights) and running all over the theatre are just more things to love about this pair. More importantly, they’re evenly matched: both skilled performers, they bring an equality to the stage that is very important; we care just the same amount for both Bob and Helena.
Especially remarkable about this show is how intelligent it is in its self-editing process. Many shows that are born out of workshop and fringes can become overworked and unchecked, and ‘bits’ can go too far in any direction. Midsummer goes just far enough. It’s very, very funny, but it’s not so funny that the emotional core of the story is sacrificed; the repeated music refrains become more relevant as we go further into the play, but the messages aren’t heavy-handed; its reach never exceeds its grasp. I can’t find fault in this play.
In the final scenes of Midsummer, the constant rain of Edinburgh has slowed to a gentler pace. “Not falling so much as… hanging.” Fittingly, when we walked outside the Drama Theatre, so too it was in the streets of Sydney, this barely-there, hanging rain. You must see this play.