Gareth K Vile reviews, and analyses, Midsummer--both the production and his reaction to it.
It seems almost trivial to review Midsummer's revival at this point: it rocked the Fringe, has become one of Scotland's increasingly rare revivals and boasts a script that manages to be thoughtful and playful, alongside two remarkably confident and comfortable performances. Cora Bisset establishes herself, once again, as one of Scotland's brightest talents, while the references to Hollywood romantic comedies, Edinburgh geography and emotional carnage make it on of David Greig's finest plays.
Throughout the hour and forty minutes, the jokes and pathos keep coming: the hero and heroine are developed and mature characters and the use of musical interludes are trenchant and entertaining. It richly deserves its praise, and its presence in the IETM plenary programme is appropriate. This is a flagship for the sort of work Scotland can promote.
Yet I can't help feeling that Midsummer is flawed: not as a work of theatre, but through the seam of optimistic sentimentality that ensures Japanese bondage, the threat of gangland violence, adultery and casual sexual encounters are ultimately reduced to a happy ending. At the risk of sounding both hopelessly miserable and pretentious, there is no work that has ever made me agree with Plato's condemnation of theatre. As I remember it, Plato said that he would happily praise the performers, compare them to gods, then send them far away from his city-state, as they are morally dishonest.
Plato might have been going a bit far: I certainly think that Midsummer is essential viewing for anyone who loves theatre, intelligent writing and gritty romanticism. In fact, the discomfort that the play left behind is as much a testament to its excellence as a criticism. It forced me to ask whether its portrayal of these mismatched lovers was true to my own experience of midlife crisis. In its depiction of the petty misery of becoming middle-aged, it is perfect: the looming sense of failure, the shattered dreams of youth, the evidence of physical decline. Where it frustrates me is in the ease with which the characters escape this horror. It engineers a happy ending in the face of the very real world it takes pains to describe.
It might simply be that I am being over-literal in my critique: isn't the feel-good finale an end in itself? Do I really need theatre to offer practical solutions to my life's worries? By refusing to distract me with petty complaints - like a set that doesn't double superbly as bedroom and emotional map of Edinburgh, or actors who fail to expertly switch between characters or connect directly with the audience - Midsummer compels me to direct my criticism at larger topics. In this case, it is the distorted vision of reality that ensures an escape from anguish through a few nicely timed plot twists.
On one level, Midsummer is a brilliant work of ligh entertainment. It's funny, enthusiastic and robust. It has certainly earnt its critical plaudits. However, I feel compelled to wquestion its integrity as a play, to question the social impact of the performance, and wonder whether its sentimentality is a poor alternative for a vigorous engagement with the chaos of failed dreams. This, of course, means I am taking the whole thing far too seriously. Again.