The Wedding Dance
Written and directed by Felix Cross
Octagon Theatre, Bolton
The Octagon has opened its 2007 season with another co-production, this time with London-based Nitro whose artistic director Felix Cross has written and directed this piece.
The Wedding Dance tells the story of Cuban medical student José who meets and marries London-based teacher Rita and goes with her to England, where he intends to finish his medical training. However he ends up teaching salsa classes with his dance partner Kathleen and becomes a serial seducer of his female students. When deeply-religious Miranda comes to him to ask him to teach her and her fiancé how to do the salsa so that they can dance it at their upcoming wedding reception, he is determined to sleep with her, but this time the consequences may be much more severe for both of them.
The play, which manages to touch on issues such as the Cuban economic situation and idealisation of Cuban socialism by some left-wing Europeans, jumps around a lot in time, which is interesting as a style but can often be confusing, especially when the same actors appear in consecutive scenes as different characters with little or no changes, even actors who play major roles. There are some powerful and some funny scenes, but the confused structure prevents the play from reaching the heights that it should.
There is, of course, plenty of dance from choreographer and co-director Debra Michaels to an excellent salsa soundtrack by composer Alex Wilson, which keeps the production lively and exciting. There are some interesting directorial touches too, such as the extreme slow-motion entrance of the characters for the next scene when the current scene is still continuing. However the background characters in crowd scenes seem under-directed, as they rarely set the scene as well as they could and are often reduced to standing around whispering to one another.
The production has a strong cast of actors and dancers. David Gyasi is moody and brooding but charming as José. Madeline Appiah is just perfect as the blushing bride-to-be Miranda, getting her innocence and piety across with some humour without overplaying her naivety. As her fiancé Julian, Anthony Mark Barrow also plays the sexual innocent, but is also the brooding cuckold in his occasional narration scenes. There are also notable performances from Ben Bennett as suave local businessman Jonathan who pursues Kathleen, Troy Titus-Adams as dance teacher Kathleen and Natasha Bain as José's wife Rita.
Ruth Finn's design depicts quite well the run-down hall where the salsa classes take place, and other places are created by moving furniture on and off, although the damp on the walls does look like it was put on with a paint brush.
The Octagon seems to be entering into more and more of these co-production deals with different theatre companies, which is a great way of introducing more variety into the programme as well as allowing them to share resources. The Wedding Dance is certainly flawed, but is interesting and entertaining and is very different to anything else in the Octagon's programme.
Reviewer: David Chadderton