Review: Midsummer (a play with songs) (Théâtre français de Toronto)

Midsummer (a play with songs) is “a night of Toronto theatre that becomes a trip around the world”

It’s not often the drama gods raise the curtain on two similar yet completely different productions in one week.

On Tuesday I took in the all-Canadian version of the Tony-award-winning Once. On Wednesday I was immersed in Midsummer (a play with songs) where Scotland stands in for Ireland, and English surtitles interpret French. Both plays revolve around a man, woman and songs. Plus guitar. Plus love.

This Quebecois-version of a play that originated at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival has toured the world. In fact, a quick search found reviews of Midsummer productions in New York City, London and New Zealand.

But this one is super special, non? First and foremost because it’s in French. Above and beyond that, the play manages to twist your sense of place because while the location is downtown Edinburgh, the references are en anglais, and the production is from Montreal. A night at the theatre becomes a trip around the world.

Midsummer is about two mid-30-something musicians who fall together into a weekend of singing, drinking and sex. Not to mention thievery, bondage, and did I mention singing?

Because, like Once, this is a production that centres around song. In fact, the French title is Midsummer – Une Piece et Neuf Chansons.

The production is so craftily performed that even 24 hours after the show my memory bank was still full. The hangover song (“If my hangover was a country… If my hangover was a sport…”), the romp on the chair, Elmo, the never-ending rain…

Isabelle Blais and Pierre-Luc Brillant have a humor, intensity and connection that keep the audience riveted. Blais as Helena is the tough lawyer with a goofy laugh. Brillant’s Bob is “Robert… Rob… Bob Fuck.” Something like that, but in any case, unforgettable.

Since French generally requires more words to express something than English, I was able to read the surtitles and then get back to focusing on the performance. My French-Immersion guest for the evening, on the other hand, took it all in sans traduction. Both of us were impressed by the surtitles operator’s speed and precision.

I mentioned that Midsummer made me feel like I was traveling the world. It also made me want to travel, period. To Edinburgh, Quebec, or even to another foreign-language theatre right here in Toronto.

Details

  • Midsummer (a play with songs) is playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre second floor (26 Berkeley Street) from Feb 25 – to March 1
  • Showtimes are at 8 pm with weekend matinees at 3:30 and 2:30 pm
  • All performances are spoken in French, performances with English surtitles are on Friday and Saturday.
  • Tickets from $44 to $48 can be purchased online or by phone (416) 534-6604 or 1-800-819-4981.

Photo of Isabelle Blais and Pierre-Luc Brillant by Suzane O’Neill

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