The Worst Wedding Ever
By Chris Chibnall
A Salisbury Playhouse co-production
Directed by Gareth Machin
Designed by James Button
Thursday 16th February 2017, 7.45 pm
Elisabeth Hopper – Rachel, the bride
Nav Sidhu – Scott, the bridegroom
Julia Hills – Liz, mother of the bride
Derek Frood – Mel, father of the bride
Elizabeth Cadwallader – Alison, older sister of the bride
Keiran Hill – Graeme, the vicar
Lloyd Gorman – Mike, Alison’s soon to be EX-husband and band leader
Ben Callon – Andy, brother of the bride
Dan Smith – Brian, in Mike’s band
Chris Talman – Colin, in Mike’s band
It’s set in Dorset, by the writer of the TV series, Broadchurch and the next Dr Who. A new play, commissioned by a regional arts centre, too, with a focus on South-West writing / original drama. Salisbury first produced it in 2014, and it is revived with a fresh cast and some polishing and updating. Salisbury and director Gareth Machin are doing exactly what a good regional arts theatre should be doing, and I especially applaud them saying this was designed to be mainstream popular theatre that could live in rep companies for a long time. The theme touches a chord … family tensions and feuds coming to a head at a wedding … which is universal. Looking for images for this review, I Googled Worst Wedding Ever and you hit hundreds of bizarre images from around the world, none of which are from this play. I have no axe to grind … I have two sons and one daughter and she planned her own wedding. My son’s fabulous wedding was in California and all we had to do was arrive. Our own wedding was the ideal of the couple in this one … Registry office, three friends, six family.
This play is ideal for years of revivals… though few will have a set this elaborate. The section of house with 1930s windows with stained glass upper lights upstairs and a modern double glazed patio door downstairs looks perfect. And a rep company could get away with just one Portaloo, not two, and a shed. Incidentally, when we hired a Portaloo for a location shoot years ago at Glastonbury, I was amazed to find it had been driven from Bournemouth, my exact route that day … the driver said “Bournemouth is the Portaloo capital of England.” He could have got that East Dorset reference in rather than having “Scotloo” on them.
The play opens with the set concealed, and Rachel using the scanner to choose wedding stuff in John Lewis. There is a lovely intercut conversation with Rachel and her mum, Liz, stage right, while her intended, Scott is stage left with Rachel’s dad, Mel. The conversations mirror each other at speed … a hard thing to pull off … last seen with Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon doing a similar thing The Painkiller. It’s even harder with four.
Rachel, in wedding dress against her wishes
Rachel (Elisabeth Hopper) and Scott (Nav Sidhu)want a quiet wedding of their choice. Mum, Liz (Julia Hills) wants the full thing. It’s a thorny subject as heavy drinking older sister Alison, is about to divorce her husband, Mike, an amateur (or semi-pro) musician. The dad, Mel (Derek Frood) wants to avoid being involved in any decisions.
Mel is devoted to his two huge savage (and unseen) dogs, Frodo and Gandalf. Mel is the only person in the world who was thrilled to hear The Hobbit was being made into THREE films. The trouble is, they can’t afford a big wedding, so they decided to stick a marquee on the common land behind the house, get guests to bring food and drink, and to erect two Portaloos. When the wedding band cries off, they have to resort to Mike’s band, even though Alison hates him.
For us, it was a change to see Dorset being the location for the regional accents (if it does travel in rep, it wouldn’t be impossible to localise it). I’m tad picky on accents and generally the cast was more Mummerset than accurate Dorset, but West Dorset is nearer that anyway, and the writer sets Broadchurch on the far western edge. It didn’t sound East Dorset at all to my East Dorset ears. One of the telling accurate local lines (there are a wealth of memorable funny lines) is when Liz complains that when Rachel was “at uni” she had to bail Rachel out after “smoking cannabis with a biker from Boscombe.” Boscombe is the considerably less desirable area of Bournemouth and those who like us travelled from the Bournemouth / Poole conurbation, 30 miles south of Salisbury, were in fits of laughter. I know I was … but a lot of lines brought audible laughs from me and I can sit quietly through hilarity as a rule.
L to R: Scott, Mel, Liz, Rachel, Graeme the vicar
I’d agree with the 2014 comment that a few minutes of flat spots could be shaved from the first act. While they say it’s ben tightened since then, there are a couple of duller three or four minute sections. However, the second act is laden with incidents and accidents. It’s very funny, and interestingly gets right through all the mayhem and argument without a single F-word, which is both rare and unlikely in the circumstances, but it will help its mainstream appeal.
Older sister Alison (Elizabeth Cadwallader) as chief bridesmaid with Portaloos
It has been compared to Ayckbourn. I thought it funnier than any Ayckbourn in incidents, probably broader too. It’s not a farce either. To me, the comedy is closer to good sit-com. We often bemoan that writers cannot handle sitcom nowadays without going for extremes of crudity. Chris Chibnall can do it. I’d think he could turn in a very good classic sitcom with wide appeal. There are some good theatrical surprises … Mike’s entry, the broken Portaloo door, Mike singing in a revolving sandpit.
Mel (Derek Frood) loses his temper with obstructive neighbours
The question is about the most-Ayckbourn section, where it suddenly becomes deadly serious and sad right at the end. It’s an Ayckbourn sort of switch, where Ayckbourn strives to be meaningful suddenly, often from nowhere, which is one reason why I am definitely not an Ayckbourn fan. It was a shocking moment (no plot spoilers), and we discussed afterwards the concept of such a switch n a comedy, with divided opinions. My companion argued with some heat that it was a 100% male writer moment, and no woman would ever have countenanced it in the plot … without spoiling things, she said no daughter would have done that to her mother. Ever. In any circumstance. She also branded the play, “a very male view.” Being male, I can’t comment.
Liz (Julia Hills) and Alison (Elizabeth Cadwallader) get down to wedding planning
The band, Mike’s band, are down as actors as well as musicians and are used to cover changes as well as being part of the play. They perform in the foyer before the show too. The band add a great deal of energy, and humour with Mike’s unexpected entrances bursting into song. Lloyd Gorman is brilliant at this. To be honest, if it goes into a touring rep, I can see that being lessened considerably, which will be a shame. Actually, I think its best bet would be a long West End run in Noises Off / Play That Went Wrong style.
I’m going to make my repeated gripe about song credits in the theatre. If you can credit the rehearsal photographer and set painters, why can’t you credit the writers of the songs? Mark James wrote “Suspicious Minds” which must occupy nearly three minutes of the play’s running time. Kimberley Rew wrote Walking On Sunshine, at least another two… the other three or four songs need credits too. The argument might be surprise … so put it in small print at the end of the actor bios.
It’s excellent entertainment, as intended, first-rate mainstream theatre, and I mean that as praise not criticism. First rate performances, fine comic timing and pace in the direction, a fine set, a good band. People may say “It’s not Waiting for Godot” and it’s not meant to be, which means that star ratings are genre specific. We are eschewing the figure skating “points on artistic merit”!
After Salisbury, the show will travel to New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich (March 1-11); and the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch (March 15-April 1).\
The pre-show band in the foyer was deliberate, but I assume the interval entertainment was not arranged, because it was only in the gents toilet, where a guy was texting one handed with one hand, and peeing with the other. Never seen that before. It must require practice.
LINKS TO REVIEWS ON THIS BLOG:
GARETH MACHIN – Director
Hedda Gabler, Salisbury
The Magna Carta Plays, Salisbury
Little Shop of Horrors, Salisbury
Separate Tables, Salisbury
The Recruiting Officer, Salisbury
The Spire, Salisbury
The Taming of The Shrew – RSC 2012
(Bianca, in one of my all-time favourite productions)
King John, Rose Kingston 2016 (Blanche of Castile)
Curiosity Shop by Daniel Jamieson (after Charles Dickens), Nuffield Southampton