Theatre in Wales

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New Writing from Scotland Sparkles

Theatre of Scotland

Midsummer- David Greig , Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn , January 20, 2011
Theatre of Scotland by Midsummer- David Greig New writing from Scotland travels. David Greig’s “Midsummer” may not have the intellectual muscle of his “Damascus” which toured the world. But with productions in six countries to date and more planned, two months at a prime London venue is not bad for a play reportedly written the weekend before its first rehearsal.

“Midsummer” has elements in common with the last Scots play to travel south. Like “My Romantic History” (reviewed 31st August 2010) its topic is bitter-sweet romance, a pregnancy intervenes, there is repeated dialogue. Its effect depends on a large dollop of sheer charm. It is romantic without being cutesy. It has a surface twang of modernity without being heavy-handed. (When Bob needs to revive his flagging libido, mid-act, it is Claire Grogan and not a contemporary starlet that the dreams of.) And it is Scottish, uncompromisingly.

Cora Bissett and Matthew Pidgeon, mid-thirties divorce lawyer Helena and fringe low-lifer Bob, are on stage for an unbroken hour and three quarters. They pick up guitars to sing the songs provided by Gordon McIntyre. His melodies are not that hummable but he has written what must be the ultimate tribute to the dismal horrors of a hangover. The playing by the two actors- the action includes some swinging from the frame of the double bed that is the centre of the set and some unlikely four a.m. bondage in a fetish club- has a jauntiness and a joy to it.

David Greig’s script is a song of love to his native Edinburgh. This is a city where the midsummer solstice weekend can be draped in a clammy fog. When it drizzles the two actors pour real water over themselves. Helena lives very precisely and enviably in Marchmont Road. They move to Salisbury Crags. A dawn scene involving a wholly enchanting act of charity takes place on Leith Links. On a playing field Cora Bissett plays hunched-shouldered hoodie Aidan- with the arrival of a football her shambling teenager is transformed and moves with balletic grace.

David Greig’s plot has allusions aplenty and is none the worse for that. It is not just the name Helena that evokes “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. A character like “Eyebrows” Thompson might have stepped out of Damon McRunyon. (That an outsize eyebrow falls off and gives rise to some improvised humour matters not one bit.) There was a Billy Connolly vehicle “Blue Money” which had a ne’er-do-well on the loose with a bag of swag. Peter Yates, who died this month, made a film “John and Mary” which similarly kicks off with a one-night stand that moves to intimacy. Matthew Pidgeon’s character has hints of that lovely tiny-budget Irish romance “Once.”

But it is resolutely its own script as well. With a car park automated payment machine providing philosophical input and an important dramatic turning point it can hardly fail to be. A character from “Sesame Street” not only stands in as a sensitive part of Bob’s anatomy but then turns upwards in protest and starts addressing his owner as an equal.

While the characters might drink, sweat and vomit there is a quality of fairy tale to it. An ogre, vengeful hoodlum “Big” Tiny Tam Callaghan, is dispensed with hilariously. Bob himself is a rare fringe criminal who meditates on the meaning of a fried egg, who takes out Dostoievski in a packed city centre bar and has dreams of being a poet. Beneath his fading bravado he reaches that critical birthday of thirty-five with the realisation that life is less a game of poker than a game of patience. “You turn the cards over and see what turns up.”

David Greig directs. Lighting is by Claire Elliot, design by Georgia McGuinness. “Midsummer” sold out on its first airing in the summer 2008. Two years on “Midsummer” is mid-winter delight.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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