Alison Wood, Dingwall Players, Edinburgh Fringe, Gordon Ryde, Kirstine Thomson, Liz McLardy, Midges, Nick Fearne, Nick Fearne's Midges, Peter Whiteley, Robyn Kidd, Space on Niddry Street, Theatre Review, Tina Fewster
[The following contains spoilers.]
Dingwall, from whence Nick Fearne’s play “Midges” has sprung, is a town of around five thousand people that lies north of Inverness. The Dingwall Players are self-confessedly community “am dram,” but they have been around since 1947 and they are habitual Scottish Community Drama Association finalists.
“Midges” currently resides at the Space on Niddry Street. It is the first Fringe play that I have come across that genuinely features product placement. Pyramid’s insect repellent Trek Midge & Tick has been concocted “for extreme midge conditions.” The spray must be powerful since you cannot use it on children under two, presumably because it identifies them as midges and eliminates them.
Quite surprisingly, “Midges” appears to decide that its sponsor’s product doesn’t work. At the very beginning of the story, four characters who have met in the remote Highlands each reach for their handy Trek bottles and spray themselves. Thereafter, they are perpetually attacked and bitten by the insects.
One wonders which had come first. Had Fearne written his play and then been only subsequently approached by an interested Pyramid? Or had the representative of the Pyramid organisation strode into the amateur dramatics committee meeting, placed his insect repellent in front of them, and commanded, “write me a play about this!”? If so, thank goodness that Pyramid had got there before the man from Toilet Duck.
Anyway, Robyn Kidd plays a girl who has lured four ladies, all enemies of her deceased father (Peter Whiteley), to a remote spot. She is going to confront them about the hand that they each might have had in his death. The ladies are mostly all businesswomen who had exploited the father in some way. This play might be onto something when it gets to the problem of whether the father had been the victim of a selfish society or instead rather more responsible for his own destiny. Yet Fearne does not see this as an ambiguity that might give his play any extra rush of blood but merely a hook that it has got stuck on. He evasively changes the subject, by suggesting that the daughter might be blaming the ladies as a means of displacing her own guilt.
This is a sprightly play but it is at times a bit too fun-loving or uncommitted to its own story. It is not using the midge material as a lever to open up the tragedy, but rather it is really using the tragedy as a pretext for clowning about with midges. Gordon Ryde plays a lab-coated insect enthusiast, who flutters peskily around us like a midge himself with a constant buzz of midge facts. It has to be said though that Kidd, who never takes part in the clowning, has a seriousness as a performer that this play relies upon heavily to counterbalance its screwier side.
I’m not sure how well the central analogy works in the end. Those selfish ladies might be bloodsuckers but they are hardly comparable to midges, which provide a constant minor irritant rather than wrecking lives. Had the father been driven to insanity by people giving out flyers at the Edinburgh Fringe, then midges would fit his story perfectly.