BUOYANT, MAGICAL, DREAMLIKE YET TRUE
MIDSUMMER – A Play with Songs
Written by David Greig and Gordon McIntyre
Directed by Lyndee-Jane Rutherford
at Circa Two, Wellington
From 21 Sep 2013 to 19 Oct 2013
Reviewed by John Smythe, 23 Sep 2013
Turning 35: that's a predictable crisis in adult life. Being a sister's bridesmaid yet again: that can be quite discombobulating too. Not to mention …
Well no, I'd better not mention the other causes that produce this particular brand of midsummer madness because the way they're revealed is part of the fun of this immensely enjoyable play, with music – by playwright David Greig and songwriter Gordon McIntyre of Edinburgh, Scotland. (It premiered at The Traverse Theatre in 2008.)*
Who knew these excellent actors Byron Coll and Kate Prior were also wonderful singers and accomplished musicians? Their opening song, ‘Love Will Break Your Heart' sets us off on a non-linear mash up of Bob and Helena's stories, narrated (both in the third and first persons) by each and commented on by each other; re-enacted with great flair, each winning our hearts despite their characters' flaws and role-playing the bit-parts – all done with comedic truth and deceptive ease.
Any connection between this Helena and that of the jilted lover in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is tenuous at best, despite their ending up at a fetish club called A Midsummer Night's Cream. This Helena is no lovelorn masochist, although there is something going on – or not – with someone she keeps exchanging texts with, and there is a secret she cannot even tell herself, which sends her off to the pub where she hits on Bob with a tantalising bottle of Cloudy Bay.
Helena is a lawyer specialising in divorce. Bob, once the brightest boy in school, is a divorced petty criminal who reads Dostoyevsky (Notes from Underground) and is the father of a boy he rarely sees. Mismatched from the start, their debauched weekend can only possibly end in disaster. Surely. Even if the sex is “just a great big beautiful ‘now'.”
The questionability of their behaviour at personal, relationship and social levels is nicely offset with richly poetic prose, captivatingly true encapsulations of human fallibilities and vulnerabilities, and songs that take their experiences deeper, wider and higher, while adding to the often poignant comedy. And there is something about their Scottish brogue that makes it all the more delectable.
Kate Prior's initial presentation of Helena's assertiveness and resilience gives her plenty of space within which to reveal greater complexities, which she does with profoundly truthful and touching skill. Her Big Tiny Tam Callinan is a formidable force for Bob to reckon with, and her Weather Girl, Shona, is a delight.
Bob is instantly likeable in Bryon Coll's persona and clearly a good companion for someone wanting to lose themselves in a night on the town – albeit the shortest night of the year - but beyond that? Surely not. You'd have to be a masochist … (omg: have I been too hasty in dismissing the Athenian lover connection?).
While Helena could be said to be running away from her true self, Bob is in the process of (re)discovering his; not that he was consciously looking. But having launched impulsively into a wildly unpredictable weekend, that's what he finds. His private chat with his upstanding alter-ego is but one high point among many. Coll also captures the essence of Helena's camera-toting nephew Brendan in an exquisite cameo.
Apart from the fact that they are both on stage non-stop, running is a recurring motif, causing much comment afterwards on the fitness, as well as the talents, of the actors.
The shifts in time, perspective and location would seem to present a formidable challenge when it comes to staging, yet director Lyndee-Jane Rutherford ensures it plays out with an impeccably modulated rhythm and effortless flow.
Ian Harman (better known for his costume designs at Palmerston North's Centrepoint Theatre) has created a playful yet practical set of moveable boxes within a ‘pen and wash' style Edinburgh cityscape – lit with panache by Glen Ashworth – that also accommodates musical instruments and the odd prop. Harman's costumes also fill the bill beautifully, not least the bridesmaid's dress about which I shall say no more; you'll just have to see how that fits in.
There being no musical director credited, it must be assumed the actors and director took care of all that themselves and the results are sublime.
Overall there is a buoyant, magical and – yes – dreamlike feel to Midsummer. It never takes itself too seriously – there's a self-aware summary of the romantic novella genre – and yet it does confront truths of human existence with truth and integrity. And who knew parking machines could also dispense philosophical advice?
Don't miss Midsummer: it will put a spring in your step!
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*Billed as Scotland's New Writing Theatre, The Traverse has been around since 1963. Is it not time we had one of those in NZ? Could this become the next role for Wellington's Hannah Playhouse?
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