The Hub, Edinburgh International Festival 2018 ***
Review of performance seen Aug 22, 2018:
I love the work of David Greig. I’ve seen a few by now, all shapes and sizes from the historic – Dunsinane, his reworking of Macbeth – to Damascus, his moving account of western confusion in and about the Middle East. One of his quirkier pieces – apparently still globe-trotting – was The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart – which I saw in south London’s Peckham Bussey Building in 2013.
You’d hardly think a Celtic supernatural fantasy would go down a storm at the home of Soul. But that night five years ago, I’d take a bet, is lodged in the heart of those who were present at this most wonderfully zany, inclusive, and stupendously silly evening.
Midsummer which seems to me something of a closely related cousin to the said Prudencia is a new, expanded version on the production which first appeared at the Traverse a decade ago and subsequently travelled south to London’s Soho and Tricycle Theatres.
I’m sorry not to have seen it in its original form because enjoyable as this enlarged Edinburgh International Festival production is, I suspect its appeal might have been even greater in a less ambitious production.
Like Prudencia, Midsummer is a sometimes mad, musically integrated concoction that asks you to join it on a flight of fantasy but one deeply rooted in and around Edinburgh that stars as an entity in its own right as a place where people live and fall in love.
Greig and his music collaborator, Gordon McIntyre (songwriter for the Edinburgh-based band, Ballboy and a self-confessed Edinburgh devotee) invite us to suspend our disbelief.
Come with us on a magical journey and imagine, just imagine a couple who meet once in a bar, a pub, go on to have wild, abandoned sex and then…what? Do they part, is it the start of something big? Or do they part forever?
Recalling something not only of Prudencia in its flights of fancy but also Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, as the title suggests, midsummer is a time when perhaps for a night, a weekend, the laws of social gravity are broken. Convention comes a cropper. Risks are taken.
So Helena and Bob do it, not only once but embark on a push-me-pull you, on-off kind of romance that sees Helena, a smart young up-and-coming lawyer flip her stack and shack up with Bob, a small-time, failed low-lifer.
Both are played with exuberant, carefree abandon by Sarah Higgins and Henry Pettigrew, watched and echoed by their older selves played by a wonderfully spry, effervescing Eileen Nicholas and Benny Young’s skinny, still slightly down-at-heel Bob. Evidently they not only went mad for a weekend but yes, it was the start of something Big!
A double perspective, then, that inevitably creates its own humorous asides as the older couple look back on their younger selves, McIntyre’s lullaby-of-Auld Reekie songs add a fine potion of poignancy and pathos.
But Greig’s flights of fantasy sometimes spin out of control and whilst Kate Hewitt’s National Theatre of Scotland production carries invention, colour and warmth, the production itself sometimes feels just too burdened by having to literally cover a lot of ground in the large expanses of Edinburgh’s Hub, like so many, formerly a church.
Still, in the end, Midsummer is indeed a sweet, imaginative rom-com celebrating the madness and delirium of midsummer and the value of taking risks in life and love.
Full of charm and sexual and emotional liveliness. I just wish I’d seen the smaller, more intimate version. I think I’d have been swept away by this Celtic Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, shorn of that slightly fey Gallic sentimentality and twice as cheeky.
By David Grieg
Helena: Sarah Higgins
Older Helena: Eileen Nicholas
Bob: Henry Pettigrew
Older Bob: Benny Young
Director: Kate Hewitt
Composer and musical director: Gordon McIntyre
Movement Director: Jenny Ogilivie
Set and costume designer: Cécile Trémolières
Lighting Designer: Tim Mascall
Sound designer: Nico Menghini
Music associate: Pete Harvey
Associate musical director: Aly Macrae
Casting: Laura Donnelly
Musician: Clarissa Cheong
Bandleader: Pete Harvey
Actor-musician: Reuben Joseph
First perf of this production of Midsummer at The Hub, Edinburgh, Aug 2, 2019. Runs to Aug 26, 2018.
Part of The International Edinburgh Festival
A National Theatre of Scotland production
Review published on this site, Aug 25, 2018