Review: Taken In Marriage, Waterloo East Theatre

Family mysteries, a looming wedding and way too much wine is never going to be a match made in heaven. Taken in Marriage by Thomas Babe is a clash of personalities: two generations of sisters – a bride-to-be, her sister, mother and aunt – are trapped in a basement the day before the ceremony, in the company of an outspoken, cash-strapped female singer. Bring on all characters’ inexplicable and sudden need to reveal all their secrets.

Young, beautiful and nervous Annie quietly fusses with her wedding decorations. Meanwhile, her multiple-divorcee cynical older sister Andy struts and sighs, chain-eating sweets to quell her cigarette addiction. Her mother, Ruth, who was betrayed by her husband, and Aunt Helen, who never married, reminisce and attempt to give often long-winded advice tinged with sadness. Floating among it all is the chatty entertainer Dixie (aka Walking Plot Device) who, it is obvious from very early on, will be a catalyst for the oncoming drama and Annie’s decision on her impending marriage. No wonder Annie is a fragile thing.

Thankfully the trains thundering overhead Waterloo East Theatre add an ominous feeling to an otherwise strained, emotionally vacant first half. Every character seems plucked unashamedly from lazy, overused theatrical formulas. Surely sometime in the distant past, a naïve, sweet bride-to-be and her tough, rich mother weren’t stereotypes, but now – like Chinese whispers passed between productions – the characters’ meanings have been lost.

After the first half grinds to a halt with a soap-worthy cliffhanger, the second half pours a well-deserved glass of wine for the characters. Like any social occasion, it gets more interesting with alcohol: empty chat is displaced for a fascinating scene where we get to know Andy’s emotional side and there is a genuinely moving revelation from Helen as to why she never married, played subtly by Joan Plunkett.

All the actors are commendable. But even they struggle to bring to life a script that seems chronically unbelievable: though played enchantingly by Roxanne Lamendola, the endearingly fun Dixie seems to only be there to speed up an eventless play; a stirring monologue from Jeryl Burgess as Ruth has an eloquence and honesty at odds with the supposedly dysfunctional family she has headed; and, however comical Liane Grant as surly Andy is, it is hard to understand Dixie’s claim that nothing touches Andy given she appears bitter, irritable and overtly wounded – hardly cool and collected. Most captivating is Alex Critoph as Annie, who somehow sculpts a believable character from the two-dimensional script, whether being tearful or smiling sweetly.

Director Lucy Atkinson and RoL’n Productions offer a well-crafted revival of a clumsily-crafted play. Though funny, intriguing and emotional (it made me cry – though the theatre bar might be partly to blame for that), talented acting cannot save a meandering yet somehow simultaneously melodramatic script.

Taken in Marriage is playing at the Waterloo East Theatre until 18 July. For more information and tickets, see the Waterloo East Theatre website. Photo by Rea Clarke.