Simon Ward reviews The Wedding Speech at The Hope Theatre
The Wedding Speech is a one-woman play written by Cheryl May Coward-Walker and performed with passionate intensity by Princess Donnough as Rosemary. She is the grown-up daughter who has volunteered to make a speech at her mother’s wedding, as her grandfather has (perhaps recently) died. A kind and thoughtful gesture, one might think. But the toxic relationship explored over the seventy or so minutes makes us think again.
We meet Rosemary in the bathroom at her mother’s wedding – the hubbub of chatter and music is in the background, as she emerges onto the stage. The play is taking place in real time – she is due to give her speech in one hour as she is talking to us. We, the audience, are her confidants and allies as she attempts to corral her thoughts and ideas so her speech will be able to tell her truth. If that makes you think there will be audience participation, you would be right, but in reality it feels rather half-hearted. It is not quite clear whether a livelier audience would have been more involved, but apart from a few set pieces of audience involvement, which were not really followed up, it felt like no-one involved had decided how far to take this. This was all the more awkward in such a small room.
Rosemary does share her story of the challenges she has faced and the less than perfect, to the say the least, relationship with her mother (not to mention her absent father). As we are also in real time in the middle of the story we also see her ill-fated attempt, inevitably rebuffed, to please her mother with a wedding gift. We hear about her trip with her mother to Nigeria, in an ill-fated attempt to bond as they both find their roots. Needless to say, her mother is having none of that, and she refuses to accept any affinity with the Nigerians. However, Rosemary does find a whirlwind romance in Nigeria and, indeed, a husband. As the play approaches its climax, the ominous results of her pregnancy test suggest that the toxic cycle will continue.
Director Simone Watson-Brown does well to provide light and shade through the course of the play, sometimes literally as the lights dim or brighten and the pace changes. However, there is too much time spent talking to other characters through the door at the back of the auditorium – this is effective at first for the entrance but becomes increasingly frustrating as the audience can hardly the action. Furthermore, the scenes that take place off stage are too long and the sound not good enough to get the full effect. In spite of the short running time, there are moments when the play seems to drag, as if there is insufficient momentum to carry it forward.
There are interesting ideas here, and the theme of the cascading consequences of abuse through generations is a powerful one. It is often funny, and the way Princess Donnough inhabits all the characters, from her future father-in-law and husband to her mother, is brilliant. Unfortunately, overall, this play does not quite manage to deliver the emotional punch it needs.
The Wedding Speech is running at The Hope Theatre, above The Hope and Anchor Pub, 207 Upper Street, London N1 1RL until 3rd December
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