Review: Midsummer (a play with songs), Soho Theatre

"It's Midsummer, in Edinburgh, it's raining, and there's these two people having sex"

After being blown away by how good Legally Blonde was at the weekend, I was little expecting to see something that made me feel as good (and possibly even better) so soon, but Edinburgh transfer Midsummer (a play with songs) did just that last night, tucked away in Dean Street's Soho Theatre. I've seen a couple of musicals already this year and I can overwork a metaphor along with the best of them, so here a dubious extension thereof: if Priscilla was a frothy marshmallow on top of a cup of the best Viennese hot chocolate which was Legally Blonde, then Midsummer was the long weekend in Vienna that made it all possible, it is spontaneous, joyous, energetic, uplifting: something truly special.

Written by David Greig, the play is set over a whirlwind weekend in Edinburgh: Helena (Cora Bissett) a divorce lawyer and Medium Bob (Matthew Pidgeon) a small-time crook have a chance meeting in a bar which leads to a one-night-stand. They part the next morning, but events conspire to throw them back together and a crazy rollercoaster of a weekend ensues. The action is then enhanced throughout with a set of lo-fi songs by Gordon McIntyre which are performed by the pair onstage with guitars, Bissett in particular has a beautifully pleasing voice, putting me in mind of Tracey Thorn with a hint of Joni Mitchell.

And it is Bissett who is the star here, as so much more versatility is demanded of her as she frequently doubles up as a range of characters who the couple meet on their way and displaying a surprisingly effective wide range of male voices. Her mimicry is also well-served with a hysterical weather forecast scene which should crack up anyone who's ever lived in Scotland. Pidgeon is also strong though as the everyman character who one cannot help but root for and equipped with a fine voice as well. They both carry the show with aplomb, as themselves, as the supporting characters and also as narrators: Dea Loher should also take note of how to utilise the third person narrative effectively, it's extremely well done here.

But what makes Midsummer great is that underneath all of the comedy, the obvious love for Edinburgh and the gentle lilting songs, is a huge emotional depth. Swept away on the highs of the illicit thrills of the story, Greig is also unafraid to show us the struggles and the loneliness of being thirty-something and single and not necessarily happy with the decisions that one has been taking. In the end, all combines to give a touchingly authentic portrayal of two people attempting to decide what they really want from life and who finally take the philosopical advice offered by a parking meter, 'change is possible'.

This is the show for people who say they don't like musicals, (especially if they're fans of indie music) it should convince even the hardest of hearts of the glorious power of theatre to transport you and move you deeply, even if you will never look at Elmo the same way again.

Running time: 105 minutes, with no interval
Playtext cost: £3.50

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