Skip to content


Midsummer [A Play With Songs]
5 stars

The Theatre Royal
Brighton Festival
Reviewed by Mathilda Gregory

On a rain-soaked Midsummer weekend in Edinburgh, a mismatched couple meet and fall into bed together. But will they also fall in love? That simple, eternal question sits at the heart of Midsummer, and 90 minutes of songs and silliness later we find out the answer (sort of). It's a romantic comedy, with nods to A Midsummer Night's Dream and two simply stunning performances by Cora Bissett and Matthew Pidgeon as Helena and Bob.

The show also features songs, played by the two cast members on acoustic guitars. The idea, writer/director David Greig notes in the programme, was to create a musical that features - instead of the highly-produced and choreographed showstoppers of the West End - the kind of "real" music that aficionados enjoy. An indie musical? Can it work? It probably could, but it doesn’t really work here.

Songs in musical theatre are rarely just songs; they're soliloquies, they drive the plot forward, they heighten emotion. The songs in Midsummer suffered from being rather slight, short and similar. One of the most memorable describes a character's hangover. It's funny, but it doesn't do anything beyond reaffirming what the play has already told us. In a well-constructed musical the songs are integral; here, it would be possible to remove all the songs and have the show remain intact. It all implies the music is rather superfluous, even if it does further demonstrate the jaw-dropping talents of Bissett and Pidgeon.

Bob and Helena are well-played, but their characters are confusing. Helena is an ice-queen: in her work as a divorce lawyer she's seen too many women destroyed by emotions to ever display any herself. Well, that's what she tells us in an early monologue. But the Helena we see in the show doesn’t match this description; she's vulnerable, confused and chaotic. She's worried she might be pregnant and once dreamed of being a gymnast. It's a shame we have to reconcile this warm, complex Helena with the stereotyped personality we are told she has at the start of show.

Bob, on the other hand, rather than having conflicting personalities, doesn’t really have one at all. A throw-away joke casts him as "Medium" Bob, because he has no discernable character traits. Perhaps this joke would have been better saved for a peripheral character rather than the romantic lead, because it just highlighted the fact that there wasn't much to him.

This makes it hard to root for the romance; but in the end, we've all seen this story, so we know what we should be hoping for. And there are some lovely touches, like a car park ticket machine that displays the prescient message 'Change is Possible'. But in the end, if Midsummer were a DVD, you'd class it as a better than average romcom - and then a year later you might find that you'd rented it again, having completely forgotten that you’d seen it before.

<< Festen by David Eldridge   African Gothic >>