Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

The Pope's Wedding

Edward Bond
Cock Tavern Theatre
(2010)

The Pope's Wedding production photo

The Pope's Wedding was the first of Bond's plays to be produced, at the Royal Court in 1962 for a Sunday night on the set of Becket's Happy Days, and it seems to have had only one previous revival in Britain since. It is neither about a pope nor a wedding, but the tensions in a small farming community in Essex. The title sardonically implies an event that could not happen and it is not easy to be sure to what Bond intends it to refer: perhaps it is the apparent act of violence that is never shown, referred to or explained late in the play, or is it the psychotic change that takes place in the character who must be responsible.

The Pope's Wedding is made up of a succession of mainly short scenes that offer glimpses into the banality and boredom of lives going nowhere. The first half is very much an ensemble piece with the men hanging around killing time, in the boozer or on a break from field work, their frustration fuelling tensions over petty differences. Director Conrad Blakemore's static staging of the opening interplay of character establishes exactly the right atmosphere but the repetitive and laboured setting up of furniture as locations alternate within the box set (that this play shares with Olly's Prison, with which it runs in repertoire) slows down the action and risks inducing the same boredom in the audience.

Play and production spark briefly into active life with the inventive, multi-angled staging of a cricket match, ignoring the existence of the set. There is a well-established sense of a festeringly narrow community on the cusp of change, the cocky confidence of its women belying the old gender roles, while scythes and sickles look back to old ways, but a young woman cheating on her fiancé is the nearest we get to a plot emerging before the interval.

By the second act that young woman, Pat, is married and things aren't going smoothly. She helps out a derelict old loner with shopping and haphazard cleaning (sweeping the dust out of sight beneath his bed). John Atterbury gets exactly the compulsive irrationality of the old man, terrified of the community that baits him - it is not clear why. Is it just because he is an outsider or are we to take seriously a taunt that he was a spy? And what exactly is his relationship with Pat?

It is intriguing certainly and things get odder as her husband Scopey starts first helping the old man, then seems to absorb his characteristics while his wife's affections return to her former fiancé who seems to be making something of his life. There are strong performances from Rebecca Tanwen and Tim O'Hara as Pat and Scopey and Matt Stokoe as fiancé Bill and confident playing from the whole cast that counters the tedium of scene change rituals but the audience gets little help towards understanding Bond's intentions - although half a dozen small reproductions of Constable's Haywain pasted on the set's walls are presumably intended as a clue.

In repertoire until 2nd October 2010

Reviewer: Howard Loxton