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

Saturday 30 January 2010

Oh dear, this rating system is going to be the death of the Whingers.

“Well, definitely a robust 4,” said Andrew confidently as they trailed down the staircase of the Soho Theatre after Midsummer (a play with songs) on Monday (Yes! Monday! That’s how long this has been rumbling on!).

“Mngh,” countered Phil. “3”.

But then it turned out after a bit of discussion that Phil was in fact actually rating his bladder which – dicky at the best of times – had been sending impatient complaints to his brain for the final half hour of the 105 minute uninterrupted running time.

It’s an understandable problem for the more senior members of the theatregoing community to contend with but it really did seem to have sent Phil off on one of his moods.

While Andrew was making mental notes to commend David Greig and Gordon McIntyre’s “play with songs” for being poetic and prosaic, parochial and universal, acoustic and electric, early middle aged and childlike, blonde and balding, Phil had been having concerns beyond his bladder wondering why the parentheses enclosing the words “a play with songs” had filled him with such dread.

The juxtaposition of those words had put an ominous foreboding in his heart in the way that “speech by Bono”,”vegan restaurant”, “family friendly”,”a Tom Hanks movie” or “non-alcoholic beverage” would.

The stage version of The Lord of the Rings tried to distance itself from being called a musical: apparently it was “a theatrical adaptation with vital musical elements”; the Whingers would agree that it definitely wasn’t a musical, anyway.

But Midsummer (a play with songs) a hit at Edinburgh last year is most definitely a play. The two characters occasionally pick up a guitar and sing, but it could exist perfectly happily without them and it would definitely be shorter. Did they add much? Not much, though they’re short, pleasant enough, often funny and the Whingers could definitely relate to the hangover song.

Anyway, it is midsummer in Edinburgh and petty criminal  Bob is in a bar about to engage in a little shady business when he is chatted up by lawyer Helena whose date has let her down. They have a one-night stand but it turns out they have more in common than just one drunken night together warrants and what emerges is a charming, witty and very well-told story. Albeit one with too many places where it could have ended earlier thus saving further wear and tear on Phil’s bladder control muscles.

Even Phil had to concede that Cora Bissett and Matthew Pidgeon exude chemistry (can one exude chemistry? or just chemicals?) and have polished their performances to perfection. There’s also the funniest exhalation ever seen on stage and some droll lines: “disappointment will be our default position”.

The tiled set (Georgia McGuinness) is unattractive but imaginatively versatile, dominated by a double bed which amongst other things becomes a restaurant table, an S&M cage, and even a park bench. Yes a play with a park bench without a park bench! Phil was thrilled. This is the way forward for writers who feel compelled to insert a park bench in their dramatic opuses.

Alarmingly though, this is the third play the Whingers have seen this year and the third in which the characters address the audience. Please don’t let this be twenty-ten’s new trend. To be fair, Midsummer is probably the most successful in making this work without getting Phil’s back up.


And so the Whingers’ ratings schism rumbles on… As previously mentioned, while Phil enjoyed the proceedings enough to award a 3 (glass half full) Andrew insisted it was deserving of a 4. That puts it up with Legally Blonde (although we reviewed that before we started applying our year-in-the-making system) in Andrew’s opinion. But this time it will be Phil wearing the cloak of diplomacy and conceding rather than suffer three days of petty sulking and sniping. Phil says, “Lucky old Midsummer. It really is pot luck what rating you’ll get”. Andrew has made a mental note to recommend an official upgrade of Legally Blonde to a 5 because otherwise there is no prospect of anything ever getting higher than a 3 ever again.

5 Responses to “Review – Midsummer (a play with songs), Soho Theatre”

  1. webcowgirl Says:

    Hmm. To be honest based on your review it sounds like it was actually a three: not a waste of time (a 1) or bland but tolerable (a 2), but “pleasant but not worth changing your schedule to see” (which is what I’d see as a three). A four sounds like “a must see” to me, while a five would be “let the paid for tickets for a different show go to waste if you must to see this show, possibly the event of the year.”

    • Caroline Says:

      For a tantalising moment I thought you were going to nominate the lack of interval as the latest alarming trend – I certainly suffered from it enough in 2009 and am sorry to hear it persists, but at least Soho Theatre publicises this, so I shall go prepared when I see Midsummer next week. Last year I was caught out twice in succession at the Almeida, but Kursk at the Young Vic was another offender. Is it my imagination or are interval-free productions staged only in the most uncomfortable settings? Seriously, I do think the attention span begins to suffer after about 90 minutes; furthermore, the interval allows for a discreet departure if a play proves not to be to your taste… no interval = no escape until the bitter end!

  2. Ed Avis Says:


    I believe the plural of opus is opera.

  3. A Clown Says:

    Aw, I thought you would have liked it more, it was the best thing I saw last month, refreshingly different and just fun.
    I agree though, I fear addressing the audience, along with male genitalia, are definitely the themes of the year.

  4. nicola Says:

    Of course this had addressing male genitalia (well sort of) which scores double points!

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