Review: Midsummer Songs, by Peter Rowe & Ben Goddard, New Wolsey Theatre, until September 27.
- Credit: Archant
‘Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be’ and ‘You can’t go back’ are the two maxims which run through this brand new show from the New Wolsey creative team of Peter Rowe and Ben Goddard.
Unlike previous outings Midsummer Songs is an actor-musician play rather than a musical. The distinction may be subtle at times but it is important as the relationships explored between the songs have a darker, deeper edge to them than the majority of musicals have room for.
But, this is not a show about gloom and doom. This is about a group of forty-somethings revisiting their youth – meeting up with old friends 25 years after a riotous post-exam party where they recorded one half of an album on a C90 cassette. They buried it in a tin box, on top of a Welsh mountain and vowed to get together a quarter of a century later, older and wiser, to record the second side.
There is also an element of ‘Be careful what you wish for’ mixed in there but that merely provides added colour to an intimate canvas rich in musical and personal detail.
Inspired by a real life university reunion attended by musical director Ben Goddard this play with music is the first completely original work penned by Rowe and Goddard who have a long history of working on other people’s shows.
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The evidence of this proves that they have learned their lessons well. Although some of the dialogue may be a bit clunky, the songs and the characterisation are staggeringly good.
It’s not easy to draw eight characters and not have them turn into stereotypes or ciphers which merely exist to advance the plot. Here each character is an individual which you identify with, has a back story you can relate to and has an increasingly tangled relationship with their former friends.
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The show seduces you and quickly draws you in to their world. The cast made up of a large number of West End veterans (Alex Bourne, Glenn Carter, Adam Keast, Jane Milligan, Peter Peverley and Yvette Robinson) and one sparky newcomer in the form of Hannah Jarrett-Scott.
Phylip Harries made a huge impact on the audience as the voluble Welsh sheep farmer who, not only, shows the disparate friends back into the farm cottage where their musical journey began but offers sage advice on how to live their lives.
The show thrives on being an ensemble piece and it would be wrong to single out any one performance. But, the storyline which I found most affecting was the one between jaded writer Steven, played with just the right amount of cynicism by Glenn Carter, and his growing understanding of the impact he had on Lucy’s mother. Hannah Jarrett-Scott, as Lucy, more than held her own among some very experienced co-stars, and delivered a subtle and genuinely moving performance.
But, as important as the emotional journey was, there was still plenty of room for laughter and a dozen heart-lifting songs which had the first night audience cheering and clapping along.
Midsummer Songs is a hugely enjoyable show, with some stunning music and a good time is guaranteed for all. A triumph.