views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

A Wedding Story
Tristan Bates Theatre
18th February 2014

★★★☆☆

Heidi-Karin Meldrum and Erika Sanderson as Grace and Sally

Photography © Simon Raynor

Ignoring the Underground at rush hour on the way to Canary Wharf or the City, never will you find such a large group of well-dressed, slightly awkward strangers crammed into the same space as each other than at a wedding. People who wouldn't ordinarily choose to cross paths with each other are put on the same table and instructed to play nice. This strange melting pot of diversity is presumably why writers are attracted to weddings time and time again.

But despite the name of Bryony Lavery's A Wedding Story, the play is less about one day and more about an entire marriage. The bulk of the action revolves around Peter (Christian Hawker) and Evelyn (Rachel Dobell), a couple who have been together long enough to have adult children, and who are beginning to really discover what the "in sickness" part of their vows really means.

Evelyn's mental deterioration plays out side-by-side with the fledgling romance between her daughter, Sally (Erika Sanderson) and wedding guest Grace (Heidi-Karin Meldrum). However, this is 70 minutes of non-linear plot, allowing Dobell to play Evelyn at her peak, as well as in the full unflinching grasp of Alzheimer's. Lavery twists the knife by making Evelyn a doctor, and whilst Peter's frustration doesn't affect us as much as it should, Evelyn's realisation of what is happening to her does cut deep. It's a moment of perfect, cruel lucidity which Dobell imbues with an overwhelming sense of tragedy.

While such powerful moments are too fleeting, the cast do capture the family dynamic well. Sally's relationship with her brother, Robin (Benjamin Archer) is convincing, the games the two play with each other instantly establishing an old bond. The play is certainly at its most compelling when the family are challenged with finding a coping mechanism.

Christian Hawker and Rachel Dobell as Peter and Evelyn

Photography © Simon Raynor

Kevin Jenkins' set may be heavy in symbolism, but it has been put together with a lightness of touch, looking wonderfully elegant. Empty photo frames are suspended in the air, together with a mixture of posh hats and frocks - naturally the kind you would wear to an upmarket wedding. Evelyn's inability to remember precious moments is clearly shown through the design, with the swathes of white material not only evoking thoughts of wedding parties, but also a more heavenly existence. It's a very versatile set which allows the action to take place on one stage, without the scene changes which would be cumbersome for a play of this tight running length.

Director Rosemary Hill also weaves footage and sound clips from Casablanca, Evelyn's favourite film, into the action and mixes up Robin's fondness for movies with Evelyn's confused recall. With the action dipping back and forth to illustrate the impact of the disease, it would be easy for the deliberate confusion to be, well, confusing, as opposed to clever. Hill however makes sure we don't lose our place, and the entire piece is never anything less than gripping.

A Wedding Story is very much a tale of how the perfect facade of middle class can come crumbling down despite education and wealth - illness just doesn't discriminate. In some ways, it feels as if the relationship between Sally and Grace has been written in to make the storyline more inclusive. But although this is one of the weaker plot points, Grace's heart-on-sleeve behaviour is endearing, and Meldrum very much makes her character a welcome addition. Indeed, all of the characters are likeable and garner sympathy.

Ultimately, it all comes down to one question. Do I take A Wedding Story to be a play worth seeing? I do. It could do with a bit more of emotional impact, but nonetheless it's compelling, stylish and tells a story which deserves to be heard.

A Wedding Story ran from 17th to 22nd February 2014 at the Tristan Bates Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Northern, Piccadilly)



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