Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Review: Midsummer, Tricycle Theatre

Have you ever seen a production that was so profoundly wonderful, so genuinely life-affirming, that you just can't quite manage to find the words to tell people about it? If so, you'll understand the issues I've been having with writing this review. If not, HURRY - you only have a few days more to catch Midsummer at the Tricycle Theatre!

Midsummer (a play with songs) is a two-person show set in Edinburgh one rainy midsummer weekend. Bob is a petty criminal experiencing getting-older blues who is so not Helena's type, while Helena is a divorce lawyer with an unsatisfying love-life who is way out of Bob's league. Under normal circumstances, they may never even have met. But circumstances have other ideas, and continue throwing them together.

This piece is ostensibly a play by David Greig with songs by Gordon McIntyre, but a quick read of the programme reveals that performers Cora Bissett and Matthew Pidgeon also had a firm hand in the creation process, with brilliant results. The non-linear story, with the performers not only playing other characters but also filling in the narrative between scenes, is ingeniously put together; the story is compelling, the characters are intriguing, and the momentum never falters. Combine this with whole-hearted performances from two consummate actors, and the overall result makes you feel less like you're passively watching a play, and more like you're being involved in the telling of a story. I have rarely felt so absolutely emotionally invested in a production, thanks in no small part to the rapport Bissett and Pidgeon effortlessly build with the audience. I have also rarely grinned so much during a performance, but when a show is as simultaneously hilarious and touching as this, it'd be pretty damn difficult not to.

The songs by Gordon McIntyre, of Scottish indie group ballboy, are a perfect fit for the time and place. Not strictly performing the function of songs in more traditional musicals, this is - as it says on the tin - much more of a play with songs, and the ideal show to take a non-musical fan to. Sure, Bissett and Pidgeon sing live onstage, with strong, clear voices, but they accompany themselves on pleasingly lo-fi guitar and there is nary a jazzhand to be seen. You can never be 100% sure you've not heard these songs on the radio dozens of times before, and that is very much a point in their favour.

Phrases like "life-affirming" get thrown around with such abandon these days that it's easy to forget the deeper meaning. This show will not just emphasise the positive aspects of life, it will genuinely raise your spirits and give you hope for the future. In the words of the wisest parking ticket machine I have ever seen onstage: CHANGE IS POSSIBLE.

Ukulele Watch! Two pretty brown soprano ukuleles snuck onstage for one of the last songs. I was well pleased.

Warning! I have heard of people trying to take fairly young children to see this show. Don't do that. It's not really appropriate for anyone younger than 14, and getting seated at the Tricycle can be tricky enough without having youngsters removed shortly before curtain.

Date seen: 22nd January 2011

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