Writer: David Greig
Composer: Gordon McIntyre
Director: Kate Hewitt
Reviewer: S.E. Webster
A whole decade has passed since acclaimed playwright David Greig’s Midsummer first premiered at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. Since then the play has toured across the world from New York to Seoul. 2018 now sees this fun, carefree musical theatre production return to the city of its birth where it’s flying high as the flagship drama from the National Theatre of Scotland at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival.
With a fresh revision by theatre-maker Kate Hewitt, the production has expanded and evolved to include two new characters – the older versions of Helena and Bob – reflecting on how two people can narrate the same story differently and the need to tell stories about ourselves. This alternative interpretation has brought a new depth to the drama that is both stimulating and enchanting.
All of the actors share great chemistry with one another and it’s mesmerising to watch the mirroring of the two couples; one in the future, the other in the past. Henry Pettigrew in particular shines in the role of Bob and is entirely convincing as the petit criminal with a warm heart.
The production set looks much like the festival outside the theatre doors, decked out with strands of lights, grass turf reminiscent of that in George Square, balloons and flowers. The seating, on wedding chairs and cushions on the fake grass, is on tiered levels and is laid out in the round – it’s immediately an immersive experience and the actors regularly perform directly to the audience, breaking down that fourth wall and playing at different levels and heights within the space. Indeed, they’re literally sharing Helena and Bob’s story directly with the audience – involving each and every person right from the very start.
Although set during Midsummer, which fell in June this year, the entire production, from the set design to the music, to the wanton abandon of Helena and Bob’s wild summer nights sweeps the audience off their feet into a vortex of festival fever that is impossible to shake. The humour is both verbal and visual and the energy and enthusiasm of the cast is infectious.
The music, combining with clever lighting, sympathetically heightens the drama and successfully transports us from the underbelly of the city night clubs to the heights and hills of Holyrood Park and back again. There are also some lovely harmonies and musically the production is watertight.
David Greig’s writing is unashamedly rooted in the streets and buildings of Edinburgh, and those who know Scotland’s capital well will revel in the detail as the characters verbally map the city. For those less familiar with the city, this local detail is reassuring in that it adds to the authenticity of the drama.
As with many productions some elements are highly effective, like the falling rain of confetti at the end, and others are questionable, such as the need for the wedding table complete with champagne flutes and the sudden destruction of this set piece so early in the production. Likewise, some of the costume changes are somewhat awkward and the tables become a bit of a hindrance at times. However, these are minor issues in what is an accomplished production. Midsummer captures the spirit of both Edinburgh and the festival season in a single production and is a worthy revival of the original drama.
Runs until 26 August 2018 | Image: Peter Dibdin