Perfect Midsummer night at Red Stitch

It's a tale about 30-something angst with accents, so it has to be in the Red Stitch season – but Midsummer is as welcome and gorgeous as a warm turquoise day under a shady tree with a shamelessly expensive picnic basket with your best friends, and your favourite musician turns up with a guitar.

Midsummer: Ella Caldwell & Ben Prendergast. Photo by Jodie Hutchinson
Midsummer: Ella Caldwell & Ben Prendergast. Photo by Jodie Hutchinson

In 2008 UK writer David Greig composer Gordon Mcintyre created a play with songs that sells out every time it's produced. And, if the outpouring of love from opening night was anything to go by, Red Stitch's production will have to extend. Book now. Just do it. It's pure outrageous joy that will leave the most cynical and single of us a little less cynical.

Mid-30s Helena and Bob meet in a wine bar. They're so not each other's type, but there's far too much wine and … we've all been there. It's a text-book rom-com structure but filled with such vivid life and unexpected situations that it feels like Grieg invented the genre. This is writing that can soar with hope because it welcomes the chance to embarrass the hell out of its characters and put them in the worst situations – and then add vomit, miscalculated bondage and being chased by a petty crim called Big Tiny Tam.

Ella Caldwell and Ben Prendergast's performances are touching and real, and so very funny. They perf

orm like it was written for them, like the writer knew their strengths and the emotional secrets that drive their acting. But it wasn't, it was created with and for the original cast.

Trying to understand why this writing connects so strongly and feels so fresh, I found this article in The Guardian by Greig. He talks about watching actor Michael Gambon do something perfect that wasn't in the script and how the part was written (by Caryl Churchill) in way that gave the actor everything he needed and nothing that he didn't. It was “like a piece of music for the actor to play”

“I suddenly, really viscerally understood that the 'wright' at the end of 'playwright' is indicative of the fact that a craftsperson's job is to fashion vehicles, just like a cartwright or wheelwright, which an actor can inhabit and travel in. It really was fundamental and thereafter I have been much more aware that when writing, my job is to leave space for the actor.”

I finally understand what I mean when I say something is over written; it feels false because it's so caught up in being exactly what the writer imagines that there's no room for the other creators to make it their story. Shakespeare got this. Write an exquisite story, but let the performers and creators decide how to tell it.

And director John Kachoyan and designer Peter Mumford make Midsummer eve better by leaving space for the audience to make the story theirs. It's two people in a small room with guitars and cheap stuff stuck on the walls, but I deny anyone to not describe in detail the city they saw and how much the story was “just like me”.

This is theatre that gets into your heart and leaves you happy, and if you're trying to tell someone that you fancy them, this might be the perfect date show.


Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard