Theatre: Midsummer

Tricycle Theatre, until 30th January.

Fresh – well, fresh-ish – from its triumphant run at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010, Midsummer is a theatrical treat presented in what is perhaps an overlarge box at Kilburn’s substantial Tricycle Theatre – well known for picking up small plays and giving them a larger stage prior to a West End run.

Scots playwright David Grieg has a solid track record, with work produced at Edinburgh’s Traverse as well as Covent Garden’s dinky Donmar) and he usually writes scripts which involve more than two actors, but both the stars of Midsummer (the excellent and enervatingly energetic Cora Bissett and Matthew Pidgeon) do their very best to fill the space at the Tricycle, and, on the whole, thanks to their versatility, a little bit of audience participation, and regular costume changes, succeed.

Here’s the pitch: it’s Midsummer’s weekend and Bob and Helena meet in a bar. He’s a drifting petty criminal and she’s a high-powered divorce lawyer having an affair with the sort of married man who offers to meet her in the IKEA car park. They sleep together, of course – but it’s what happens afterwards that the play is really about.

Midsummer is billed as a “play with songs” – an odd no-man’s-land between script and musical – and that’s exactly what it is, technically, but watching this hour and forty-five minute script play out, I couldn’t help but feel increasingly that this production was in fact a “film with soundtrack” manqué – a sweet and quirky rom-com in the mould of Before Sunrise which might (whisper it) actually work much better on film.

The songs are relevant to and comment on the action, but as they have pop/rock rather than musical theatre lyrics, they are non-narrative and repetitive, so the music can also hold the action up, sometimes for an uncomfortably long time. Having them play over a montage or even dialogue would have improved the pace and the piece, in my opinion, so here’s hoping that Paramount picks it up …

Both actors play multiple roles (and guitar), meaning that although there are only two main characters, we don’t suffer the claustrophobia that having no other incidental characters might engender, and the action takes place over a single weekend, in one city – Edinburgh. Midsummer is intimately woven through the map of the city, and makes various references to bars, streets and parks which may well have been lost on its North London audience; but the specificity of the piece is its strength, and I hope very much that a Hollywood version, should there be one, doesn’t relocate the action to LA and thus lose what makes up a huge amount of this witty, bittersweet and quirky play’s undeniable charm.

Katy Darby

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