Chris Chibnall's Worst Wedding Ever has a terribly literal title, leaving me with a slight sense of unease about what I was about to see. My fears, however, were dispelled within a minute, as Rachel (Rosie Wyatt) tries to conceal her trip to John Lewis with her Mum from her fiancé Scott (Rudi Dharmalingham). The laughter duly arrives and barely abates for the two and a half hours, as we witness the "DIY" wedding that turns literally into the worst day for pretty much all concerned.
For Worst Wedding Ever is the kind of play that you can imagine every regional theatre artistic director would want to see land on their desk; a big, bold, unashamedly populist breath of fresh air that should, if any justice be done, provide a massive hit for them artistically and financially and persuade them to take a punt on more new main stage productions in their main house. For, criminally, this is their first new work on that stage for over ten years.
Chibnall of course is now best known for his television work, especially the juggernaut that Broadchurch has proven to be, but he started his writing career in the theatre and his control of the medium is evident throughout. It's an out and out comedy, with the occasional foray into farce, reminiscent of the Ray Cooney play Two Into One. We grow to know and like each of the characters, a remarkable fact seeing as each of Rachel's family members have flaws that seem to cover the entire gamut of human weakness.
Carolyn Pickles portrays Liz as the stereotypical pushy Mum, keen to make the wedding a success more for the social hierarchy then for her daughter's dreams. Pickles tears into the role with a vengeance, terrifying and hilarious in equal measure. It is a fantastic part that she has created and she takes full advantage, playing it at full tilt and almost running away with the show. Rebecca Oldfield as the sozzled, slutty older sister manages the tricky task of making being monstrous sympathetic. Chibnall has written the unusual play where the women have most of the interesting material. Wyatt impresses as well as the anchor of the piece, with less showy material, perhaps, but just as much heart, and if the West Country accent occasionally slips, it's a performance that confirms her promise.
Not that the girls have all the fun; Martin Hyder as the Dad, Oliver Bennett as the recently returned brother and Dharmalingam as the groom all have their moment to shine, and Lloyd Gorman as Mike, ex to Oldfield's sister and lead singer of the wedding band, looks like he is having more fun then anyone. Under Gareth Machin's sure direction, the whole thing moves forward sharply before taking a surprisingly emotional turn at the climax.
It is here that the play falters a step, with a flashback scene that appears to have been added just to give a key bit of information for the next scene. It jars because it feels like an easy option rather then the best one, and Chibnall is a better writer then that. But this is a minor blip on what is otherwise a terrific evening. Here's hoping for much more original work on our South West stages.
For more info on The Worst Wedding Ever, which runs until 19 April, click here