Musical, Cheers

4 April 2012 | 10:35 am | Dave Drayton

Playwright David Greig tells Dave Drayton how stalking and a ‘stolen idea’ led to his indie musical, Midsummer (a play with songs).

Still buzzing from his first visit to the Opera House just hours earlier David Greig sits down at Sydney Theatre Company before a staff meeting. However the Scottish playwright has more reason to celebrate than your average backpacker, the hit lo-fi indie musical he wrote and will direct, Midsummer (a play with songs), is about to embark on an extensive tour of Australia's east coast. It lands in Brisbane next week for La Boite.

“I'm an old fashioned Scottish indie music nerd – from the 1980s, the '90s – so I've always listened to indie music and Scottish indie music, that was always my thing. But I never thought of it as anything to do with work and then someone said to me about ten years ago, 'There's this band called Ballboy and they've done a song that is just like one of your plays'. The song is called Let's Fall In Love And Run Away From Here, so I listened to it and it had a plot that was like one of my plays, but that was irrelevant, I just really liked it. I was just playing their music a lot, and I secretly was wondering if I could make a work with him, but I didn't know him at that point,” says Greig.

And so the seed was planted, and the 'stalking' of Ballboy's songwriter (and soon to be co-playwright of Greig) Gordon McIntyre could commence.

“I was doing a project, someone had asked me to edit a book of essays about Scotland's relationship with England, and I wanted writers to write about what they liked – I wanted a Scottish writer to write about what they like about England, because obviously we expect people to write what they don't like. I thought, 'I'm going to ask Gordon to write one,' he had done this song called I Hate Scotland, and it was quite funny. But, really, asking him to do that I was thinking, 'I'll see what this guy is like and maybe…' I was a bit stalkerish, I was in pursuit,” Greig jokingly concedes.

The stalking worked and soon Greig and McIntyre were back-and-forthing, building a story from one of McIntyre's songs, which told the story of a two people having a one night stand, incidentally meeting the next day only for the woman to be run over. Their mutual love of all things 'indie' prevented the production from getting the Broadway treatment, the duo going as far as to set strict rules against such flare.

“We were thinking when a musical normally has a hundred actors – or even just 20 – we're going to have two. Where a musical would have a chorus line, we'll just have, I don't know, glasses,” he picks up a water bottle and shakes it back and forth on the table, “and make the glasses dance like that. Where a musical would have an orchestra, we'd have just the actors with two acoustic guitars. And we got very rigorous about the rules originally. There'd just be a bed, only a bed, that would be the set. And it's not far off that.

And as for the parenthetic title, “We didn't want to call it a 'musical' and then I heard from my friend, another playwright, Simon Stevens, that he was working with American Music Club songwriter Mark Eitzel and he said they were working on a play with songs and I thought, 'I like that idea' and asked him, 'Do you mind if I used that?' thinking that – because he had told me this and it was happening – thinking that I'd be after him; he'll have done this play with songs and then I will. But in fact, by sheer luck, his thing was delayed for a couple of years and Midsummer came out, then was a big hit at the Edinburgh Festival and I had to say to him, 'I'm really sorry, because now people think you copied 'play with songs' and you copied indie musical off me.'”