Despite all the unnecessary, elephantine musicals based on movies that don't need to be turned into musicals and greatest hits compilations turned into musicals, there has been a lot of healthy experimentation in musical theater in the last few years. NEXT TO NORMAL, BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, and THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS are examples of new and veteran creators rethinking what the musical can be and how it can address the world outsde the theater. Alas, two of the three bombed on Broadway which is now dependent on tourists who want large-scale, mindless entertainment. Many of them don't speak English (given the woeful lyrics of some f these shows, that is a virtue). If original, creative musicals are going to survive, they are going to be on a smaller scale and in some sort of non-profit theater dedicated to nurturing new work. Like serious drama, the serious musical has become an endangered species that needs protection away from Broadway or the West End in London. Recent small-scale revivals of past musicals has proven that good shows can also benefit from clever, minimalist productions.
MIDSUMMER, a play with music by David Greig with songs by Gordon McIntyre, is an example of a lovely, small-scale musical. Two actors with guitars comprise the entire cast and band. The show was first performed to great acclaim at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. This is the second London run of a little show that has now been successfully mounted all over the world. With the right two performers it is a delightful adult musical.
Helena is a thirty-five year old lawyer with a dismal romantic track record and a tendency to drink too much. Bob is a small-time gangster facing his thirty-fifth birthday and some serious questions about how he is going to spend the rest of his life. He is one of those sad souls who sees high school as the best time of his life. This unhappy, self-loathing couple meet in an Edinburgh wine bar. The play shows us their weekend together which takes them all over the city they both love. Their forty-eight hours is a final bout of total irresponsibility funded by fifteen thousand pounds Bob was supposed to deposit into a gangster's bank account. Though they don't want to admit it, they are falling in love. On paper, these walking disaster areas don't sound like the sort of raw material for a delightful, feelgood evening of theater, but in the telling and acting, MIDSUMMER is a joy to behold.
Bob and Helena's weekend misadventures are recounted in scenes, narration, songs, even a bit of audience participation. Greig's script could be a less glamorous version of one of those Richard Curtis romantic comedies, a Scots NOTTING HILL. But it has been shaped as a lively theatrical experience that consistently breaks the fourth wall and embraces its audience. There is no scenery except a bed and some very clever signage and virtually no costume changes. The two actors also play the small supporting roles. This is theater as play in the best sense. The simple, folksy songs fit perfectly. MIDSUMMER has received critical raves here and deserves them.
The two charming, tireless performers, Cora Bissett and Matthew Pidgeon, quickly win the audience's affection. They're not great singers -- that would be out of character, but they totally inhabit their characters.
This is not a show to take the kiddies to. It is sexually candid. More important, it is about what it means to be grown up. A+
MIDSUMMER is now being performed at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, North London, a 200 seat theatre that offers some of the most interesting contemporary theater work. The Tricycle produced THE GREAT GAME: AFGHANISTAN, the most exciting piece of new theater I have seen in the past few years. I read in the paper that on the basis of the play cycle's successful American tour the Pentagon in presenting it to its senior personnel. Too bad it wasn't availabe to them ten years ago!
MIDSUMMER, a play with music by David Greig and Gordon McIntyre, directed by David Greig. Tricycle Theatre. January 8, 2011.