ComedyReviewSouth East

Worst Wedding Ever – New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Gareth Machin
Reviewer: Glen Pearce

According to a well-known scale Doctors use to measure stress,  getting married is the seventh most stressful thing you can do in life, just below a life changing illness and slightly more stressful than losing your job.

You can see why: the pressure to outdo the friend who had the dream wedding, the uniting of two polar opposite families, the endless planning and budgets threating to make the NASA space budget seem austere. It’s a theme Chris Chibnall explores in the hilarious but surprisingly brutal Worst Wedding Ever.

Happy couple Rachel and Scott have the perfect solution to escape all the stress – a quick register office ceremony, then down the pub for a few quick drinks. For mother of the bride Liz, though, that is not an option.  The bride and groom are just pawns in her Magnus Opus, Scott especially a ‘welcome but functional’ part of the proceedings. This isn’t a wedding, this is one-upmanship with the members of the book club, a wedding that will not only showcase her organisational skills but will unite a family at war.

Forget Bridezilla, this is Motherzilla, a heat-seeking missile ready to eliminate anything that gets in the way of her vision of a perfect wedding.

Those familiar though with writer Chris Chibnall’s work on TV drama Broadchurch will know he can pen a darker plot than the Ayckbourn-esque story this show initially resembles. Behind the comedy, and there’s plenty to keep the audience in stitches, are well-placed lines dripping with acid. Each barb carefully placed as a weapon to expose a family way beyond dysfunctionality.

Chibnall crafts his tale carefully, slowly ramping up the comedy to farce levels only to then sideswipe us with yet another dramatic bombshell. This is a family with more than one skeleton in the cupboard/garden shed or portaloo but like any good family gathering, events conspire to bring them all out in the open with devastating effect.

Chibnall’s characters may initially seem your run-of-the-mill stock farce characters, complete with the compulsory comedy vicar but it’s a ruse. As events untangle, he shows a real depth of character development that the cast grabs with both hands.

Julia Hill’s pint-sized but fearsome mother is a delight. From the opening scene dominating her daughter in John Lewis,  she’s a groom’s perfect storm of a nightmare mother-in-law to be. Calculating and determined there’s nothing she won’t do to ensure her vision becomes her daughters. Elisabeth Hooper as Rachel and Nav Sidhu as fiancé Scott have little hope of escaping her plans.

There is beautifully observed support from Elizabeth Cadwallader as older sister Alison, battling her own demons and the aforementioned portaloo with perfect comic timing.

Director Gareth Machin pitches the action perfectly, maintaining just the right rhythm to mix the farcical with the pathos. Machin also pulls plenty of theatrical tricks out of the bag, utilising Jame Button’s marvellously realistic and detailed back garden set to reveal more than a few surprises.

Of course, no good wedding is complete without a band playing cheesy songs and the production integrates a live trio to provide musical breaks during scene changes. These do somewhat slow the action down but the staging, making imaginative use of Button’s set make up for any distraction.

Broadchurch fans may initially be somewhat confused by what initially seems a standard theatrical domestic farce, but, like any good crime drama, all is not as it first seems, delve deep behind the net curtains of suburbia and there’s something darker.

A deliciously observed look at family strife. Just perhaps best avoided for any couple about to start planning their own nuptials.

Runs until 11 March 2017 then continues tour | Image: Richard Davenport

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The South East team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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