Review by Rosie Holmes
How do the experiences of our parents effect us as we grow into adults? How do the relationships we have with our primary caregiver effect every other relationship we have throughout our life? This is what The Wedding Speech aims to explore in a touching and funny one-woman show.
Written by Cheryl May Coward-Walker, The Wedding Speech introduces us to Rose, who after the death of her grandfather is preparing to give a speech at her mums wedding. As begins to tweak her speech, we hear more about the complex relationship she has with her mother. We learn about Rose’s life, her potential pregnancy, and her husband. As Rose searches for anecdotes to tell, she recalls tales of a tricky holiday taken together and her emotionally starved childhood.
The play begins as Rose stumbles into the bathroom, inviting us the audience to help her prepare her speech. Immediately, she addresses the audience, breaking the fourth wall, allowing us access to her innermost thoughts. This is a clever way to frame the play. For me, it evoked the sisterhood and companionship women often find in bathrooms at parties or bars. This allowed for audience interaction that was not awkward, after all, we were all just friends chatting in the loos at a wedding. This did make for a more informal setting - one that suited the play extremely well. Conversational in its style, audience members were empowered to react throughout, nodding along to the relatable lines, or cheering in agreement as Rose explored the relationship with her mother.
Another interesting choice made by the writer is the use of verse. Princess Donnough, handles this with an effortless ease, making it more conversational than lyrical. Occasionally the rhyme scheme is a little jarring - some tenuous rhymes do take away a little from the flow of the piece and distract from moments of tenderness. However, Donnough’s effervescence and energy never allows for this to be awkward with some of the funniest parts of the piece being the rhymes themselves (the rhyming of ‘car’ and ‘nah’ inducing plenty of giggles into the story) - all delivered with a knowing look from our protagonist.
This play explores some tough topics such as mental health, emotional abuse and co-dependency but still manages to be extremely funny, without detracting from the poignancy of the topics discussed. This of course is down to the writing, but also the wonderful performance by Princess Donnough. Throughout the piece Donnough exhibits excellent comic timing in a wonderfully assured performance and effortlessly transforms into other characters in her life. Donnough’s performance allows moments of comedy and emotion to flow from one to another without feeling jarring.
These transitions are also aided by effective lighting design. In moments of self-reflection, potentially one of the key themes in the piece, a spotlight is centred on Rose and the rest of the stage plunged into darkness, drowning out external forces. This is also accompanied by wonderful sound design by Will Pritchard. Other characters feature through muffled voices outside the toilet Rose finds herself hiding in, we hear the background of the wedding party every time the door opens, which leaves the quietness we find ourselves in when alone with Rose even more powerful and intimate.
In an interview, writer Cheryl May Coward-Walker, explains she started writing, despite coming from an acting background because it allows for more nuance and truth-telling. In fact, the inclusion of such nuance is something that really struck me with this piece, it makes Rose and her relationships Rose all the more relatable. For example, though Rose describes an emotionally abusive relationship with her mother, her mum is never truly shown as wholly horrible person. We discover more about what led her to become the woman she is, such as ill mental health and troubling childhood experiences. Moreover, Rose herself, especially by the end of the piece, after battling with some self-reflection is portrayed not just as a victim, but a character whose reliability and truth is one we question. This allowance for nuance though allows Rose to still remain a character we sympathise with and root for.
Ultimately, The Wedding Speech presents a funny and touching look at the complexities of a co-dependent relationship and sense of belonging. Relatable and pacey writing delivered by the wonderfully assured and exuberant Princess Donnough makes this one-woman show a piece that will no doubt connect with many.
The Wedding Speech plays at Soho Theatre on 2nd and 3rd March 2023. Tickets can be purchased here- The Wedding Speech by Cheryl May Coward-Walker - Soho Theatre