Matthew Pidgeon, star of Edinburgh Festival hit romantic comedy Midsummer, talks to Charlotte Marshall about the show’s London transfer, his attraction to plays that reveal his odd side and having to not only act, but sing and play guitar on stage.
CV in brief:
Trained at Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama
Theatre credits include Realism at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, The Lying Kind at the Royal Court Theatre, Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness at the Drum Plymouth and The Nest at the Traverse, Edinburgh
Screen credits include films The Winslow Boy and State At Glory and TV appearances in Casualty, Taggart and Lee And Herring.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Edinburgh. I was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My father is a scientist and he was working in the States and then he got a job at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and so we all decanted to Edinburgh when I was about two.
What got you interested in acting?
I used to do it at school, I think I did a bit at primary school then I really took it up at secondary school. We had a great drama club at school and a few people to have come out of that are professional actors. I think I finally accepted that acting was what I was going to go for when I was about 18, 19. I left school and I bummed around for a bit and resisted it for a while and then I bit the bullet and went for drama school auditions and got in and that was it really. I think I was probably always a bit scared of it, but it always dragged me back in. My sister [Rebecca Pidgeon] was quite a successful actress at that point as well so I don’t know, maybe that put me off a bit.
What is it like being a part of a theatrical family?
It’s good. Because she’s in the States and I’m here we don’t get the chance to work together very much. We’ve done a couple of films together which has been great. It’s good because when we talk about it, we understand where one another are coming from and I suppose we can be a support to each other as well. My sister came to see Midsummer at the [Edinburgh] festival and loved it and was very supportive of the show.
What’s Midsummer about?
Midsummer is a comedy drama about two people who have reached a point in their lives where they feel stuck and miserable, they’re really at the end of their tethers. They don’t feel they can change, that they can move on, life isn’t happening as they want it to happen. Relationships haven’t worked out, things like that. We reach them at a point of crisis really in their lives. And they happen upon each other and have a night of passion which accidentally keeps extending – they keep bumping into each other – and they go on this weekend of adventure and gradually they begin to realise that yes, they can change.
The Herald paper in Scotland called it “The most life-affirming show on the planet”, do you agree with that?
I think that’s absolutely true – having seen every single show on the planet it must be true! No, I think it is very life affirming I think we set out to do something that was serious but funny and fun and uplifting as well. We all kind of hit upon this idea – certainly [playwrights] David [Greig] and Gordon [McIntyre] hit upon the idea – coming in around the age of 35, that that was considered to be a watershed moment. Indeed when I started working on this I was around 35, 36. 40 is a different thing we decided and we thought I could just scrape through – I probably shouldn’t have revealed that I’m 40!
Are there any similarities between you and your character? Do you understand his mid-30s crisis?
Yes, absolutely I do. We talked a lot about this before anything was even written down, so there are bits of me and [co-star] Cora [Bissett] in there, as well as bits of David and Gordon, so there are similarities yes, there are, lots.
Is it hard work just having two actors on stage? Have you always got on?
Yes we have. You’re just so reliant on someone you just have to get on, and luckily we do get on very well. It is hard work but it takes on its own momentum. Once you get in there you can’t get out from that stage and you better just immerse yourself in it and it just takes over now.
Is this the first show you’ve done where you have to sing?
I’ve had to do a little bit of singing. I don’t really regard myself of much as a singer! But I have had to do a bit, but maybe not this much. I did the Wizard Of Oz recently where I played the Scarecrow and I had a song and singing number in that.
Did you and Cora already play the guitar?
Again, I’ve done a little bit of that. I don’t play much but I used to play when I was a bit younger and my sister had a band [Ruby Blue] and I played with them very briefly. So I’ve done a bit of guitar playing on stage, but not a lot, and I’ve always wanted to do something with that, something incorporated into the show. Cora writes and plays her own songs. She was in bands a lot when she was younger and she was also a session cellist as well.
You’ve done a lot of plays that could be said to be slightly off the wall. Do those sorts of projects particularly appeal to you?
It just seems to have happened to me. Maybe I just am a bit odd, I don’t know! But, yes, I suppose in a kind of passive way I do look for more interesting things. You might get offered a certain part or a certain play might come along – if you’re lucky enough to be offered something – and sometimes your heart can sink, but with other projects you just think “this is interesting, I don’t know what’s going to happen here”. Midsummer didn’t exist when we started, but it just sounded like a really interesting project. Similarly the plays I’ve done with Anthony [Neilson] didn’t exist before we rehearsed, so it’s exciting, I love that. You’re – in a slightly egotistically way – kind of built into it because you were there right from the start, so a bit of you has rubbed off on the piece already.
What’s your most memorable moment in theatre so far?
I think this has got to be probably the favourite or certainly one of them, because it is tailor-made for us and we have such a good time doing it and Cora’s been fantastic and the response has been fantastic and it has just been a real pleasure to do it.
Are there any actors or directors in particular you would like to work with?
That’s a very good question! There are lots of people I hugely admire, lots and lots of people. I love working with people that I know and like. I like working with new people as well because it’s always exciting when you work with new people because there’s a whole new energy and there’s nerves and that’s very creative as well. But sometimes it’s great to work with people you know well, like going back to work with Anthony or David, because you have a bit of a shorthand with them which can be really useful, you can make up so much time.
Best thing about being on stage?
It’s just an incredible feeling. I suppose we must all be really lacking in something in our personality because otherwise why else would we do it?! It’s just a great feeling, the feeling that you’re driving this thing and you’re all in it together – the audience and you. I do love the connection you get with the audience with this piece when you can actually directly talk to them, I do enjoy that as opposed to one of those fourth wall plays.
…and the worst?
I think it’s all good really! I suppose just the fact that every night you do it you get really nervous, but if that’s the worst you can say, that’s alright. Cora and I were just talking about this. We’ve done this show a lot and last night we thought “why are we nervous tonight?” and we both agreed that we were nervous every night and there was nothing you could do about it, it is just an occupational hazard.
What production do you wish you could have been in?
Another good question! I can’t think of anything really. Black Watch, but I’m too old to be one of the squaddies in that. Actually I don’t wish I was in that because I was in Realism at the time with Anthony and I wanted to be doing that! A fantastic Shakespeare or I’d love to have a big part in a big Chekhov number.
If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
I think I would have been someone who works in a call centre! No, I would have liked to do anything creative, maybe a musician. I probably would have been stuck in the pub in Edinburgh, working in an office, not getting off my arse though! So acting saved me from a life of sitting on my arse.
Best advice anyone has ever given you?
My grandmother who died very recently said that the door to success is marked push, and I’m really bad at pushing doors. But I think that probably is good advice, I’m just s**t at doing it!
What has been the highlight of your day so far?
We had our press night last night so we got a bit drunk and the highlight of my day so far was waking up expecting to have a hangover and not having one!
Midsummer plays at the Soho theatre until 6 February. For more about the show, read our First Night Feature.