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The Wedding

Amit Lahav
Gecko
Watford Palace Theatre

The Wedding Credit: Richard Haughton
The Wedding Credit: Richard Haughton
The Wedding Credit: Richard Haughton
The Wedding Credit: Richard Haughton

In this work, devised by Gecko’s Artistic Director Anit Lahav in collaboration with its performers, composer and designers, a wedding dress becomes a symbol; a symbol not just of conventional marriage between a couple, whether of different or the same sex, but of those other contracts we make in life, for we speak of people being wed to their work, Elizabeth I described herself as married to England and modern life is full of such deals even when not acknowledged. Was Britain wedded to Europe? Does Brexit equal divorce?

From conventional marriage, with its conjunctions and conflicts, as a starting point, the work has expanded to embrace a much wider look at society: the contract between governors and governed, worker and employer, the developed and the third world, between refugees seeking asylum and those of whom they ask it.

Gecko is a physical company but this is a work full of voices in a multiplicity of languages. It begins with the cries of women giving birth in the darkness, of the new-borns’ first vocalisation and the first words we here sound as though they might be Scandinavian. Later, there are recognizable phrases in English, in Italian, in Greek; is that Gujarati or Arabic? Perhaps each of this multi-national cast speaks in their native tongue or one that is pure invention. What they have in common is that for most of the audience they almost entirely will be unknown tongues.

It is not the actual words that matter, their literal meaning, but their occasion, who says them and how and the physical action of which they become part that generate information. This leaves exact interpretation more open, more personal, though the emotional impact is targeted finely.

After those opening birth cries, a flashing light warns of a new arrival and a person pops out of a green tube, the delivery recorded by an official with a clipboard who hands out a wedding dress from the wardrobe. Until modern times, all babies were put into dresses but this is about loss of choice, we can’t avoid being married to the society we are born into—though at one point there is an attempt to climb back up the birth canal.

There is a succession of birth arrivals greeted in different ways reflecting different cultures: the Chuppa, the Jewish wedding canopy, a feature of one lively episode. Non-stop for the next 80 minutes, a succession of scenarios explores a variety of situations in which society’s hierarchies, work and the refugee crisis feature predominantly.

Male camaraderie draws a new arrival into a folk dance; there is the mechanical routine of modern life; a stock market trading floor erupts into an exuberant disco; a refugee family live in (not just out of) a suitcase; two lovers award themselves yellow flower blossoms that are a happier version of the Nazis’ yellow star Jude badge; high in the air, a group like the politicians in Kurt Jooss’s The Green Table is tumbled by a revolutionary rising.

It is all eminently watchable even when it seems incomprehensible. What is going on when figures are sat in a chair beneath a gauze-draped lampshade? Is this indoctrination into social conformity, implanting religion or prejudice, education? Like being under the drier in a hairdresser’s it looks funny but feels sinister.

The Wedding is full of energy and some exciting dance work but some episodes are over-extended though, like the ultimate crescendo of percussive clapping and stamping, length sometimes lifts the effect to another yet more intense level. Despite its obscurities, this is work that feels tightly structured, the performers make big demands on themselves but they rise to them and they clearly excited the audience of mainly teenage school parties I saw it with. They gave it a standing ovation.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton