This review has been conducted by a member of the Essential Suffolk team
By Peter Rowe & Ben Goddard
New Wolsey Theatre
Reviewer: Adrian Rawlinson
New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until September 24
The New Wolsey has long held an excellent and deserved reputation for putting on original musical productions with talented casts of actor musicians such as 20th Century Boy, Our House, Mods and Rox and this years’ excellent Tom to name but a few.
Midsummer Songs continues this tradition but breaks new ground and is braver, more laudable and more engaging for doing so. Whereas previous shows have all included songs from the back catalogues of popular artists – which will generally guarantee an assured audience of fans of that artist – Midsummer Songs contains all original material written by Peter Rowe and Ben Goddard. The pair last worked together in 2012 on Mods and Rox where they wrote their first original song together - Angel of Soho - and from this sprang the desire to write a full original musical together. The result is excellent.
Acoustically based with energy, catchy melodies and soaring harmonies the music is based on the singer songwriter tradition of artists like James Taylor and Carol King and although all original had a reassuring sense of familiarity that engaged the audience from the start and had many asking for a copy of the soundtrack by the interval – sadly not as yet available.
The story revolves around a group of friends who twenty five years previously celebrated the end of their university careers with a wild week in a barn half-way up a mountain in Wales.
They recorded their seven days of madness, mayhem and music on a C90 cassette which they buried in a biscuit tin with a promise that “Wherever we are in twenty-five years’ time, we’ll come back here on Midsummer’s Eve and create the B side”. One of them remembers that promise and brings the group together again, but old passions, resentments and forgotten secrets are unearthed along with that rusty biscuit tin and its half-finished cassette.
Coming back together twenty five years later the core of the show addresses what concerns us in the middle of our lives - Have we made the right decisions? What does the future hold? Are we comfortable in our own skin? - and along with the music it evokes raucous laughter and genuine reflection. The show is superbly cast with each character contributing fully to the overall story and musically combining to create some genuinely spine tingling moments.
Few shows I have attended have created such an unanimity of genuine praise and affection that I sensed for this production in the interval and at the end. One friend described himself as "smiling right through to back of my head”. I would urge anyone who thinks that they might not enjoy the show because they don’t know the songs to put aside those concerns and instead think that they have the opportunity to be at the start of something very special.
As this show is ultimately about friends and the memories that are forged spending time together I would suggest you ring yours and book tickets today.