Review: Midsummer (a play with songs) – Dundee Rep Community Tour

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First published in The Times, Monday October 26 2015

Four Stars

Outside, the wind is blowing the leaves around in the street, but inside the Bharatiya Ashram, the sun is shining. Granted, there may be something a little disorientating about watching a play set on the longest day of the year a mere week before the clocks go back, but this revival of David Greig and Gordon McIntyre’s sparkling romantic comedy proves the ideal pre-winter warmer.

This is the sixth time in as many years that the Dundee Rep Ensemble has taken work out of the main auditorium and into community venues across the city and the surrounding area. As in prior revivals of Douglas Maxwell’s Promises Promises and Tennessee Williams’s Talk to Me Like the Rain, Ros Philips’s production keeps the bells and whistles to a minimum. The cast takes to Leila Kalbassi’s open stage in jeans and T-shirts, every now and then reaching for guitars, ukuleles and even a cello to provide live accompaniment to the witty, bittersweet songs that punctuate the action.

Midsummer (a play with songs) cast memebrs Photographer Viktoria Begg

Pic: Viktoria Begg

If this approach imbues the production with a raw, infectious “let’s do the show right here” quality, the minimal staging also focuses our attention directly onto the script and the sturdy performances. Jo Freer and Martin McBride are tremendously convincing as the odd couple, Helena and Bob, she a divorce lawyer in an unhappy relationship with a married man, he a once-promising writer facing a miserable 35th birthday. They meet in an Edinburgh bar one midsummer night and go home together for what they both later insist has been a fleeting, if enjoyable, one-night stand. Their shy, sidelong glances at one another tell a different story, however, and before long the pair are embarking on a weekend of excessive drinking and shiny new experiences that may come to provide a window of opportunity in their disaffected lives.

While the play was originally staged as a two-hander, here Philips takes the bold step of splitting the narration of Helena and Bob’s legendary weekend among the eight-strong ensemble. Although the small stage occasionally feels a little overcrowded as a result, the director and cast do a fine job of navigating the switches between riotous group dynamic and intimate two-hander while carefully balancing the mix of melancholy and wry humour in the script. It’s a welcome revival that will win over even the most jaded of viewers. Greig and McIntyre’s meet-cute tale may not entirely avoid rom-com clichés but it still feels as invigorating as a cool summer breeze.

Box office: 01382 223530. Touring community venues in Dundee, Angus, Perthshire and Fife to Oct 31. Dundeerep.co.uk

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