Cheryl May Coward-Walker’s 75-minute play, The Wedding Speech, is set in the bathroom of a posh hotel. We assume this because of the set design which features a chandelier, pink carpet, toiletries and of course, a toilet. Off stage, a wedding reception is underway, so this cosily decorated bathroom would be a haven for those wanting respite from the overwhelming pressure of the party. It’s also the place for those who love small talk, or hell for those who consider small talk to be unnecessary. Nevertheless, the bathroom can bring out our most polite and even vulnerable selves while occupying it. This is how Rose, the protagonist played by Princess Donnough, enters and begins small talk with her live audience.
The lighting and sound are used effectively to complement the play’s dramatic moments
She has come down here to rehearse and refine the speech she’ll be delivering imminently at her mother’s wedding. Since her grandad has passed away, she offered to stand in his stead to give the speech.
For the first 25 minutes, the restless character’s dialogue is waffly as she psyches herself up to the task ahead as she voices incomplete thoughts. Although it’s a recognisable trait of someone masking something dark and painful, it took too long for the themes of this play to surface. By the time Rose asked a member of the audience what the time was at 9.25pm (it was a late-night show which started at 9pm), I was almost muttering through gritted teeth to “get on with it!”. We have all encountered someone like Rose, that person who keeps dithering and apologising before sharing their work at a writing workshop because of nerves. Indeed, the character is nervous, but it grew weary and overindulgent.
For the exception of two moments within the first half of the show that hints at darker themes yet to come, not much happens, and latecomers would easily catch up. If not for the dramatic lighting change I probably would have missed those brief snippets as I had zoned out. In fact I relied on the lighting to alert me of the salient sections of this monologue.
The play eventually took off after it passed its wavering introduction when Rose began to narrate the disastrous trip to West Africa she treated her mother to. The plot steadily transformed into an evocative and relatable piece about codependency, emotional abuse and the devastating impact it has on loved ones. I felt immersed in Rose’s inner turmoil as she struggles to be genuine in her speech, process her mother’s volatile nature and fight to retain the little self-esteem she has left. The frustration made me want to scream at her (internally, of course) to ‘grow a pair’ even though that’s easier said than done.
The text is written in rhyming verses which at times hinders the dialogue’s authenticity and makes the writing sound overworked in places, however the performer delivered them as naturally as possible. I found myself trying to guess what words will be used to rhyme with the previous line. I was right most of the time, but couldn’t have predicted the monologue’s satisfying but detrimental ending.
Princess Donnough slides smoothly between playing a seemingly dipsy-like Rose, an erratic mother and other minor characters. The lighting and sound are used effectively to complement the play’s dramatic moments, and Paula Chitty’s posh set design is thrashed by the end of the play.
Coward-Walker has written a play that is relevant and insightful across all generations. Despite its undramatic start, a sequel would still be welcomed and justified as I am keen to see what happens next to Rose.