Review: The Wedding (Bristol Old Vic)

Theatre company Gecko tour its newest show ”The Wedding”

Contracts. Life is defined by them. New job, new home, new car. Paperwork is signed and rules of engagement agreed to. Society gets used to reading the small print and legal jargon. It's one of the things that link almost all of us, signatures scrawled on pieces of paper which determine the rules and regulations of day-to-day life. What though, ask Gecko, about the contract none of us signed up to and yet are expected to keep? The one which signs us up as a fully paid-up member of society. If we no longer like what we see, can we ask for a divorce?

The physical theatre company's newest piece, The Wedding, starts with performers in white vests and white pants careening down a chute and onto a pile of toys, the innocent child birthed into the world, all open with possibility. Before they know it, they are being clothed in bridal dresses and suits, bubbles of joy and excitement exploding out of them. Yet soon enough the world looks monotonous; flat monochromes in Joe Hornsby’s lighting, the claustrophobic nature of the office in Rhys Jarman’s design; a world that has begun to shrunk inwards rather than expand. Framing the show around the ceremony and the pomp of a wedding, the dress becomes the ultimate symbol, both of conformity and finally rebellion, of societal norms.

It’s a piece rich in ideas but lacking narrative clarity, requiring you to turn off the analytical mind in the moment and let the overall mood wash over you. It leaves a residue inside that is more powerful on reflection than in the moment. It's presented with customary Gecko sharpness in Amit Lahav’s production but its striking visuals and tight choreography, leaving one in mind of organised chaos, doesn’t always clarify its political heart. In trying to process the work in one’s head, it leaves little time for it to penetrate the heart.

The Wedding bubbles with anger and it's no coincidence the work was conceived in 2016, the year when the Brexit referendum chose to split us with our European cousins. This is a work defined by its internationalism, not only with its multi-national cast speaking in their native languages but also its reference points. The panoply of voices speaking in a range of native tongues, the gypsy folk-infused tunes mixed with Wagner’s wedding march from Lohengrin, these are as familiar to us nowadays as a Sunday Roast in front of the Antiques Roadshow. Making a break from our European brotherhood, this show suggests, seems daft when we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. Yet anger can lead to hope, and the show ends with the nine-strong cast taking seats across the forefront of the stage singing unaccompanied. The sound builds in power and unity until the structure of the Bristol Old Vic‘s eighteenth-century design threatens to blow away in a rousing call for a stronger society.

The work is accompanied by outreach programs and post-show discussions that demonstrate what terrific work Gecko is doing to bring communities together. It’s a production putting its money where its mouth is, wanting to make a change, not just through what they present on the stage but through engagement. This is admirable. Yet judged solely on the art I have my reservations. It only tells half the story. The real transformation is happening off stage, not on.

The Wedding is currently touring to Watford, Nottingham, Derby, Liverpool, Doncaster, Oxford and Southampton.