MIDSUMMER (a play with songs)

By David Greig & Gordon McIntyre
Directed by Tamara Bernier Evans
At Tarragon Theatre (Mainspace). April 26-May 28, 2017

Brandon McGibbon (Bob) and Carly Street (Helena) (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Midsummer charts fluctuations in the relationship of two mid-30’s somethings, who meet in a wine-bar on a rainy summer night in Edinburgh. He is Bob, a small-time crook, who once aspired to becoming a rock star. Nicknamed Medium Bob in the underworld because of his ordinary appearance, he is a pessimist who reads Dostoevsky to cheer himself up. She is Helena, a divorce lawyer, at loose ends because of an unfulfilling affair with a married man. Despite her name and the title’s echoes of Shakespeare, this is very much a gritty urban conflicted romance, with undernotes of cynicism and a gloss of black comedy. They meet, have sex, suffer hangovers, and become embroiled in dangerous escapades over the next 48 hours, that encompass such things as Japanese rope-bondage, sex in the presence of plush-toy Elmo, a sister’s wedding gone horribly awry because of Helena’s hangover and bitter rage against her sister, binge drinking with teenage Goths, Bob’s inability to bank a ton of money from a car sale, and a chase sequence that is described more than it is enacted. The plot is stuffed to the point of strenuous farce, but there are too many contrivances that could exhaust a viewer’s patience.

The radical fun of the piece is its deliberate scrambling of first and third-person narrative in the form of winding, jumping back, and doubling back. Much depends on the versatility of two performers, and their ability to negotiate Greig’s wit and McIntyre’s rock music, both adroitly suited to context. While blonde and buxom Carly Street gives a largely gorgeous performance, at once sexy, wanly desperate, and menacingly cool, turning in accompanying sketches as a pint-sized violent hood and a cheery, bubble-headed TV weather girl, Brandon McGibbon is shaggy and pitchy as Bob, neither charmingly sexy nor convincing as a man with poetry in his head. His comic sense is stronger than his romantic side, and, spurred by a song lyric, he gets good comedy from a lecture-song from his erect member about his reckless life. When the duo work with interior monologues (which are plentiful), they do better than with dialogue, but the play also compromises them somewhat by its offbeat casualness and stand-up comedy flavour.

Graeme S. Thomson’s set design is too much of a black space with a few coloured trunks and props; it hardly conveys the spirit of place demanded by the show’s shifting locales. Moreover, while the coloured trunks suggest a restless mobility, they also create the illusion of a show to be taken on the road, a sort of buskers’ entertainment. True, the script often thrives on direct address to the audience rather than fancy stage craft (a sort of alienation effect), but while this is exploited by director Tamara Bernier Evans, the production and play are both stamped as a wish-fulfillment fantasy rather than a quirky existential weekend with significant after-shocks. The over-arching point is existential change, but this point is made by a car park metre that doles out philosophical advice (“Change is possible”), almost comparable to a Chinese fortune cookie.

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