Family Calamity at the Wedding
“He looked at me like I was a potato in a famine.”
“Next door’s got a sex pond”.
Hazel on the neighbour’s hot tub
Beth Steel’s new play is set in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire in the present day at a wedding. Its theme is a continuation of the Sheffield set The Full Monty, and for the BBC, James Graham’s Sherwood where we look at male unemployment after the steel industry and pit closures of the 1980s and 1990s. The uncle of the bride Pete (Philip Whitchurch) gives an emotional litany of these closed pits, like the list of villages in Brian Friel’s Faith Healer, each one a community that has lost employment and its heart and each loss a suppurating wound.
This bitter pathos comes in the middle of the soap opera that is the women gossiping and preparing for the wedding, nails, hair, clothes, hats and make up. The bride Sylvia (Sinéad Matthews) worries about her hair and hasn’t tried on her dress recently thinking it is bad luck. It is bad luck not to have tried it on because it gapes two inches at the zip. “Sew her into it!” I thought but they insisted instead they find her dead mother’s wedding dress. Sylvia is the last to get married of her three sisters.
Hazel (Lucy Black) the eldest is married to unemployed John (Derek Riddell) and is working all hours at a warehouse which is presumably Amazon. They have two daughters, Leanne (Ruby Stokes) and Sarah (Maggie Livermore). Maggie (Lisa McGrillis) moved away a couple of years ago and has been married four times (to three husbands!)
Sylvia is marrying Marek (Marc Wooton) who has successfully built his own business after arriving from Poland and she will soon become aware how deep the prejudice is in her own family against Polish immigrants, especially those making money. The sisters’ aunt, Carol (Lorraine Ashbourne) bowls in larger than life in mammoth rollers and full of comedy, competing with Hazel to be mother figure of the bride.
Samal Blak’s core set is grass lit by a circle, a glitter ball overhead and his costumes are showy and loud. Carol’s huge purple hat is attacked by the cat and some of its ribbons left in shreds. The performances are believable, some of the humour is coarse and Marek’s Polish accent is poor. Bijan Shebang’s direction is as ever, perfection.
37 years of not speaking has affected brothers, Pete married to Carol, and the father of the bride Tony (Alan Williams). Everyone will get paralytic on Polish vodka and the men rush to find one female shoe leaving their women tottering on a single high heel. The dance party will disintegrate as rivalry and resentment surface and there will eventually be blood on the carpet.
Not my favourite Beth Steel play.
Till the Stars Come Down
Written by Beth Steel
Directed by Bijan Sheibani
Director: Bijan Sheibani
Designer: Samuel Blak
Lighting Designer: Paule Constable
Sound Designer: Gareth Fry
Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Booking to 16th March 2024
London SE1 9PX
Rail/Tube : Waterloo
Telephone: 020 7452 3000
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
at the Dorfman
on 1st February 2024