Edinburgh International Festival
20:00 (run ends 9 August, not 7)
***** (5 stars)
Midsummer is described as ‘a play with songs’ – you might as well call singing in the Rain a movie with a few songs… David Greig has done it again: this deserves to be ranked alongside The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Harte as one of those “if it’s on, you have to go and see it” shows – there’s so much in it, you can’t take it all in first time around, but could cheerfully see it again and again.
It’s a simple story: Bob and Helena meet in an Edinburgh wine bar frequented by high-flying lawyers on the Friday night of a miserably wet midsummer’s weekend. She’s perfectly at home there but has just been stood up, while he’s incredibly uncomfortable, out of his depth, and waiting to be given the details of a dodgy job he has to do. Both of them have reasons for not wanting to be alone, and end up in bed. Common sense decrees that they part in the morning and never see each other again, but…
The story is told jointly by Older Bob and Older Helena and their younger selves, each telling part of the story in turn, correcting or amplifying each other’s version of things, revealing what was going on inside their heads – saying one thing and meaning something completely different, and occasionally bursting into song which reveals so much more than plain words can say
It’s a show full of energy, wit, and enthusiasm, and a love-song to the city of Edinburgh. The helter-skelter progress of the wettest weekend in living memory becomes increasingly surreal and correspondingly life-enhancing as this unlikely romance wends its way to the midsummer Monday morning. As with Prudentia, the cast use the whole building – gallery and ‘stalls’ and acting area in the middle of the floor – the cast have no need to watch their weight when performing this – it’s way better than an hour’s high-octane workout at the gym! And yet at the end of it all Eileen Nicholas’ Older Helena is as coolly elegant as ever – how does she do it? Older Bob [Benny Young] is a familiar face, though Sarah Higgins and Henry Pettigrew are new to me, but sure to go far. They are all magnificent, as are the three members of the band, who also get to play their parts in the action – Clarissa Cheong, Pete Harvey and Reuben Joseph, making his professional debut in this production and already showing great promise.
Playwright David Greig said of writing this show “I wanted a rest from an audience leaving saying ‘Those were very interesting thoughts about the Middle East’. I wanted them to leave saying ‘I feel happy’. He has succeeded. This is a fabulous piece of work, a hymn to liking which becomes tenderness which can become love and a sign of hope to us all that “change is possible”… Sheer exuberance and joie de vivre permeate this play and send the audience out dancing into the night. As the woman next to me told her companion as they left “I loved every minute of it” – and that goes for me too.