Archive | April, 2012

Review: ‘Midsummer (A Play with Songs)’

10 Apr

Cora Bissett and Matthew Pidgeon in ‘Midsummer (A Play with Songs)’

If you want humour, sex, alcohol, drugs, love and a bit of crime to top it off, look no further than Midsummer (A Play with Songs).

About a one-night stand between two people who really shouldn’t get together, and their weekend of adventure that ensues, Midsummer is a romantic comedy that will make you laugh, and at times, cringe at the hopeless mess of the lives of Helena and Bob.

Helena and Bob are, according to Cora Bissett who plays Helena, opposites with nothing in common besides being middle-aged, single and not knowing what they want with their lives.  Bob is a drop-out petty criminal and Helena is a career-minded divorce lawyer.

“They come from opposite ends of the spectrum and on paper they should never work,” says Bissett.

“But they’ve both reached stages in their life where they’re kind of in a real rut and they really don’t know how they’re going to go forward and the place that they’re in is not a happy one.  And they meet and something really works.  And so it is a very life-affirming story about finding hope and happiness in very unexpected places.”

And that it is.  Midsummer is guaranteed to leave you with that feel-good, uplifting feeling that romantic comedies do best.

A scene from ‘Midsummer (A Play with Songs)’.

However, this is not your average play.  With only two actors, Bissett, and co-star Matthew Pidgeon who plays Bob, the show is uniquely performed through a combination of acting, narration and talking to the audience.  This approach makes the audience feel a greater connection with Helena and Bob, as Bissett and Pidgeon talk through scenes, describing their characters’ feelings, providing background information and telling us what is about to happen before they switch back to acting and continue with the scene.

Not only do Bissett and Pidgeon play the two main characters, but they play all the minor characters too.   One minute Bissett is Helena, the next she becomes Bob’s gangster boss, or Bob’s son kicking round a football.  The ease with which both Bissett and Pidgeon change persona is impressive considering neither once leaves the stage.

“It’s just two of you on stage and it’s quite irreverent and it’s quite messy and you’re completely on the stage and there’s no kind of polite entrances and exits, everything happens on stage – you change on stage, you have sex on stage, you know, it’s all bared,” Bissett says of the challenges.

It takes a well-seasoned actor to convincingly play a man while still wearing a dress,   however, Bissett pulls it off expertly.

Although the set is Helena’s bedroom, the majority of the action takes place in other locations – a bar, a church, a park etc.  This sounds confusing, but with the narration from the actors, and the improvised use of space to pretend the bedroom is in fact a bondage club, for example, the audience is able to imagine the setting.

A scene from ‘Midsummer (A Play with Songs)’.

Music is used to help tell the story, however, the play is definitely not a musical.  Rather, an anti-musical, Midsummer features acoustic guitars and cutesy indie-type songs sung by the talented Bissett and Pidgeon, reinforcing the heartwarming, feel-good attitude.  All of a sudden, the two will grab their guitars and break out in song, which in a way adds to the comical side of the play.

The humour in Midsummer is one of its driving features.  It is blunt, satirical and at times crude – typically Scottish humour, which an Australian audience can much appreciate.  We are encouraged to laugh with the characters, at their most embarrassingly humiliating moments, as well as at the hopelessness of their situations.

“You’re going to look at the mess my life is in, but hahaha, isn’t it quite funny too? I think the humour is a little bit that, it’s kind of cheeky,” says Bissett.

Midsummer is funny, sad and romantic all in one.  For the young, middle-aged and young at heart, it has something for everyone.  We might not all be in our 30’s and facing a mid-life crisis, or still searching for our life partner, but we can all relate to that idea of change and the need to do something meaningful with our lives.  With outstanding performances by Scotland’s finest, Midsummer (A Play with Songs)is not one to miss.

The set of ‘Midsummer (A Play with Songs)’.

More Reviews:

Rom-com will melt hardest hearts

Midsummer (a play with songs)

Midsummer (a play with songs) – Arts Hub

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Cora Bissett

10 Apr

The first thing that strikes you about Cora Bissett is her sense of humour – that contagiously cheerful laugh as she says something cheeky in her hearty Scottish accent.  She radiates an energy and sense of enthusiasm that you can’t help but be drawn to.

This exuberance is not just an on-stage act.  Bissett is one of those actors whose personality naturally seeps into her characters.  This is certainly true of Bissett’s latest role, where she plays Helena in the international hit, Midsummer (A Play with Songs).

Bissett admits she sees a lot of herself in divorce lawyer Helena.

“She’s someone who is very, very together in many ways.  She’s quite bullet-proof in her job and professional life, but there’s actually a lot of vulnerability underneath that and I think that can be true of a lot of us,” Bissett says.

“She’s someone that has a huge sense of fun.  I mean when she has this opportunity to let rip, she absolutely has a ball and discovers that maybe that’s her truer self.  And I think there’s that dichotomy with me.  I work extremely hard, I’m juggling 10 jobs all at once, but man I love a really good time!” she says laughing.

As she laughs about the fun-loving similarities between herself and Helena, you get the sense that Bissett isn’t joking – she really does enjoy letting loose.  Bissett jokes that her love life, or lack of, is one of the biggest things she has in common with Helena.

“Well, she hasn’t found her life partner,” she says heartily laughing.

“I’m still sampling, shall we say.  Experimenting, getting closer each time,” she says cheerfully through fits of giggles.

Bissett says that the decision to become involved in Midsummer (A Play with Songs) was an easy one for her.

“David Greig, the writer is one of our national treasures so I would have jumped at the chance to work with him and also to be involved in the actual creation of the piece.”

Bissett and co-star Matthew Pidgeon who plays Bob, not only act in the play, but based some of the characters’ adventures off their own embarrassing stories.

“Matthew and I were involved in the very early stages of putting it all together.  So the play’s sort of been built around us, with lots of us moving into it,” explains Bissett.

“It takes a really sort of interesting perspective on life and things, so it was just a great project to get involved in.”

For Bissett, one of the greatest appeals of the show was the freedom it gives her as an actor.  She says that it is different to your typical play because not only is she acting in it, but she’s talking to the audience and narrating at the same time.

“There’s just a kind of great liberty and feel about that and it’s kind of much more direct, it really is us talking to the audience.  There’s a real warmth – when we get it right and when the audience is really with us I think we all leave feeling like we’ve all met each other, you know?”

Although Midsummer is a play with songs, it is not a musical.  According to Bissett, it’s an ‘anti-musical’.

“It’s the indie, nerd, geek’s version of a musical which is just really three-chord songs, played on a guitar, totally live, no back-up, really kind of understated but just very honest, very earthy.”

Bissett describes Midsummer as a “life-affirming story about finding hope and happiness in very unexpected places.”

She says the humour in the play is very Scottish, which Australians will be able to relate to.

“Scott’s are really known for being incredibly self-effacing, we really like taking the piss out of ourselves,” Bissett laughs.

“So there’s lots of moments of humiliation and degradation, where you know, we’re encouraging you to laugh with us.  And it’s quite bleak at times, it can be quite dark.  You’re going to look at the mess my life is in, but hahaha, isn’t it quite funny too?  I think the humour is a little bit that – it’s kind of cheeky.”

Midsummer (A Play with Songs) opens at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre on Tuesday April 3 and will run until Saturday April 7.