Writer: Cheryl May Coward-Walker
Director: Simone Watson-Brown
Delivering a speech in public can be fraught with anxieties and for the speaker it can feel truly monumental, a defining moment. This is the feeling that seems to underlie The Wedding Speech.
As Rose prepares in a bathroom to deliver an address at her mother’s wedding, we hear first-hand how this becomes a moment that is set to define both herself, and her difficult relationship with her difficult mother. Mirroring the grand import of this moment, the piece is delivered as a long narrative poem. Staged with the audience on three sides it almost feels like going back to ancient times where great deeds and battles were related by a bard around the fire.
Growing in depth steadily throughout the 75 minute run-time the story that unfolds is an interesting exploration of how trauma in one generation passes to the next, how a child starved of affection may be impacted, and how sometimes the best thing to do may be to blow it all up.
The structure, as a poem, is a great choice for this. It brings Rose’s story to life and takes us into her complex world. Language-wise, and tonally, however, it’s uneven. Some sections become quite moving and elegant – when on a trip to Nigeria to discover their heritage with her cold, aggressive mother she notes she is “rooted on ancient ground, but walking on eggshells.” Other lines and passages are far too simplistic.
Additionally, while it forms a core role of the piece itself and helps build Rose’s character, there’s also an abundance of millennial therapy language that’s quite grating – she insists she’s “speaking her truth”, and diagnoses her mother with some sort of depression and “self-hate.”
In Paula Chitty’s simple bathroom set design, Princess Donnough brings Rose to life as a sparky and confident person. She develops Rose well, to the point where we can make an informed choice about liking her or not – she’s not just a straightforward hero of her own story, there’s some unattractive qualities too. Simone Watson-Brown’s direction enables her to make great use of the small audience and the confined space, though the introspective moments when Rose goes through her feelings are hard to get fully into.
Diving into the knock-on impact of one generation’s childhood abuse, though it’s never spoken of in the family, is a tough topic for anyone. This work is a smart, engaging way to explore not only this, but also questions of identity and culture. It’s wrapped up in Rose’s personal story, as well as a lengthy digression about her meeting her husband. So, ultimately, it heaps a lot onto us as an audience and it’s hard to find a clear point. Nevertheless, the experience of letting it all wash over us is bracing.
Runs until 3 December 2022