Midsummer, Barn Theatre Cirencester

DAVID Grieg’s new “play with songs,” Midsummer, made a triumphant premiere at Colchester’s Mercury Theatre, and now plays at the Barn at Cirencester until late June. I can’t urge you enough to go and see it.

Musicals are strange things these days. Some of them gain immediate cult status and continue for season after season with devoted audiences returning time after time to see “The Show.”. Some – SIX is a good example – start as improvisations on festival fringes and quickly attract audience attention, usually on social media, because of straightforward, familiar stories, very clever lyrics and rock music. They have spawned the genre of gig-theatre. Some, like Once (and many others), start their lives as films, whose popularity leads to stage adaptations. It has become a bit of a “thing”, and that has the inherent risk of a formulaic approach.

So it’s refreshing to find that Midsummer’s couple, Bob and Helena, and the two multi-talented narrators, avoid any temptation to chase the clicks and likes, instead creating recognisable, loveable, infuriating, clever, stupid, insightful, empathetic characters who rapidly engage the audience’s interest and care. All that, while unravelling the story of a midsummer weekend in Edinburgh, revealing proper back stories and singing tuneful, memorable songs with driving beats and poignant lyrics.

Helena is a divorce lawyer with a very jaded view of the flayed emotions prayed in aid by her clients. Bob is a poetry-writing, Dostoyevsky-reading petty criminal whose teenage promise collapsed like an undercooked Yorkshire pudding, and whose self esteem has been dashed by repeated disappointments. They are both 35 years old. They have little or nothing in common. They are both waiting in a city centre bar – she for a married lover, he for a fence who will pick up a stolen car.

They end up in bed, and then they say goodbye. If there is an eros-as-chorus here, he’s in a rather unusual shape, and it would be a spoiler to tell you what – suffice it to say that it is probably narrator Will Arundell’s most unusual part.

He is joined by Lauren Andresen Guimaraes as the second narrator, the two of them playing a number of roles with quick-fire changes, great singing and musicianship. All four cast members play guitar, the narrators play keyboards and Lauren also plays a variety of winds.

David Grieg’s clever script calls for lots of repetition, the things they say to each other, the things they don’t say, and the things they persuade themselves they might have said.

Ross Carswell plays Bob with a tender mix of bravado, despair and tentative hope. This is only his second major role, following his debut as Elias Burke in the lengthy 2022-23 national tour of Girl from the North Country. If you saw the unforgettable show, you can probably still hear that Duquesne Whistle blow.

He is joined by Karen Young as Helena, and she is full of cynical anger and a conviction that she is doomed to fail in love, while her sisters and relatives are clocking up repeated marriages and children on the family charts.

But these two lost souls together have an alchemy that creates caring, gentle love. And their chemistry is visceral. It might start with sex but it ends with fun, happiness and friendship. Sounds corny? It really isn’t.

I am confidently crossing my fingers that this terrific production, directed by Ryan McBryde, with its music by Gordon McIntyre and brilliantly versatile set designed by Libby Todd, goes from Cirencester to the country and the world. It richly deserves a huge following.


Photographs by Pamela Raith

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