Wedding Day at the Cro-Magnons
Wajdi Mouawad, translated by Shelley Tepperman
Dialogue Productions & Mercury Theatre Colchester in association with Soho Theatre
I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I went along to see this show at the Soho Theatre. It begins simply enough: it is morning at the Cro-Magnon family apartment but not an ordinary one. Today, their daughter Nelly is getting married, so the wedding feast has to be prepared and the dress has to be collected. Her brother, Neel (Mark Field), has just walked in with some lettuce, but mum Nazha (Beverley Klein) is not happy. Apparently he has allowed the "Armenian" to select it and has been fobbed off by a wet lettuce. Fresh food, it transpires is not easy to come by and when it does, the trip to the local supermarket means dodging the bombs. Mum settles down to see what she can conjure up with the watery concoction and some soggy potatoes she has lying around in the kitchen - a task confounded by constant power cuts.
Enter glamorous neighbour Souhayla (Karina Fernandez) who has prepared some mouthwatering Lebanese dishes for the wedding, and you think that we are in for an evening of Desperate Housewives one-upmanship. Suddenly a voice off-stage enquires, "When are we going to Berdawnay? (A resort town) " Aha! a mad-granny lurking in the attic - and this becomes a re-current refrain - but I wouldn't be giving away the plot to reveal that this is Nelly, the bride- to-be, who, we discover, is always asleep and in her rare moments of wakefulness is given to poetic ramblings.
Clearly, this is your typical middle-class household in Beirut, and thankfully salvation is about to arrive in the shape of the fiancé, who we learn as the women chat over coffee, is a "charming man, with a European car".
The main course is mutton, which dad, Neyif (Patrick Driver), has gone to get and his entrance is one of the many funny moments of the evening. He struggles up the stairs trying to drag something along - it's the sheep which the butcher did not have time to slaughter, as "they bombed the shit out of it!" He tries to kill it with a kitchen scissors but it is Souhayla who dispatches it finally with the heel of her shoe. After that, it hangs on the balcony in the front room waiting to be roasted.
There are many moments of exaggerated high comedy, where realism meets the ridiculous - but it's not all humour and the style is constantly changing. When Neyif lays into Nazha for getting pregnant and begetting children, he is cruel and wounding, but he does let slip that the fiancé is a piece of fiction they have created to amuse themselves in difficult times. However, there is no turning back and they have to go through with the charade.
As they dress up and sit at the table waiting for the groom and guests to arrive, bombs continue to fall. Neel, something of an expert, can rattle off the makes with its distinguishing characteristics: "A shining coral! Quick! A wish! They do unbelievable damage, but they have these incredible names!"
Wedding Day At the Cro-Magnons is the British debut of Wajdi Mouawad, a Lebanese writer now based in Canada, and has been translated from French by Shelley Tepperman.
The writing is witty and revelations surprising: Does the fiancé really exist? Will Nelly ever make an appearance on stage or is she just a voice that's heard but not seen? Is the story real or just a figment of our imagination? The audience is as surprised as the characters, and Mouawad, is a playwright to watch. The show is a mixture of absurd comedy featuring some vulgar language but compelling.
1 - 19 April, Soho Theatre @ 7.30pm and Matinees 5, 12, 17 & 19 April at 3pm
Reviewer: Suman Bhuchar