THEATRE – Midsummer, a revitalised retelling by The National Theatre of Scotland

Photo: Peter Dibdin


[star rating =4/5]

‘Change is possible,’ said the words on the parking meter as Helena balked at having to cough up so much for this unintentional overstay.

The same words were spelled out in balloons above the band in a fancy bar where the city lawyer first encountered Bob, the good for nothing petty crook… who had lost his way in life.

Swamped by midlife crisis and in a lather about what comes next, we watch the hapless pair, stagger and race against fate, in this buoyant reimagining of David Greig’s indie, early noughties hit Midsummer, which a decade ago took Traverse Theatre audiences so off-guard with its shoestring charm.

This time, pimped-up for a run at The Hub for Edinburgh International Festival, the compelling work charts the pair, in their mid-thirties sharing and reviewing their life stories, as they face up to unavoidable questions about personal destiny.

Fusing themes reflected also in celluloid gems like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Once and Trainspotting, the actors square up to the passage of time and their deeper longings in this slick production, with its astro-turf lawns, champagne flutes and manicured band, served up by the National Theatre of Scotland.

The play begins with a table cloth at a lavish wedding banquet being ripped away sending glasses and flower arrangements flying, underlining failed relationship, as the audience, enter a visceral blood, sweat and bodily fluids rom-com adventure with Bob (Henry Pettigrew) and Helena (Sarah Higgins), and their older selves, Benny Young and Eileen Nicholas.

An older Bob is feeling nostalgic for his past; the unabashed sex, the Jesus and Mary Chain, the fantasies about Kim Wilde and Clare Grogan. After all, 1987, was Bob’s year. Helena has a different recall.

Raw, riveting, racy, and lots of fun, the redemptive show sees Bob and Helena, get drunk….really drunk, lifting the veil, warts and all on their sad lives, and letting themselves into the arms of someone totally inappropriate, over a chaotic 24 hours.

A Midsummer’s night frames the raucous, ballsy, vibrant, sweaty, dirty, dodgy, happy, and latterly romantic, encounter in this well I never tale, that began for David Greig, a decade ago. The audience feel a part of what is happening, almost related to the characters by the time they leave.

Change it seems was indeed possible for Greig too, the playwright who took a U turn in a career which had focussed largely on heavier themes like strife in the Middle East. The idea for something upbeat and simple came from reading stories to his children and just a need to be a little more frivolous

Teaming up with Gordon McIntyre (of Ballboy), they offered up this low-budget, musical confection, as much a love affair with Edinburgh as between the protagonists, for a cash-strapped Traverse, in the thick of the credit crunch.

First shown in 2008, Midsummer, was hailed a wonder, despite dependence on just a couple of guitars, great music, storytelling and acting, a few props and a dextrous script.

Greig directed and McIntyre took time off work as a teacher to work on the music. Greig’s local knowledge and reference to the city’s beloved landmarks and even the inevitable summer rain, proved a winning formula, warming the hearts as locals and festival audiences alike.

Some reviewers mourn this pared back version but what was clear, the foray into the not always easy arena of musical theatre paid off. And it still works today.

The National Theatre of Scotland have built on success of the original play with a more sophisticated offering. Clever narrative, where both the younger and older versions of Bob and Helena relate the chaotic passing of the years, follows the cynical pair, as they run away from and at each other at the same time, keeping tension alive until the absorbing final act.

Walking out into the streets of Edinburgh, after the performance, teeming as it is with Festival tourists, past the monuments Grieg so cleverly wrought into his script, that still offer up untold promise, I feel a similar nostalgia and gratitude.

There is a deep sense that you are but one conversation away from a similar encounter – the kind that sculpts lives, shifts destinies and makes you realise change is indeed possible.