From the moment you enter the theatre you realise that this isn’t necessarily going to be a normal visit. A man with a curious Something about Mary hairstyle greets you, dancing wildly in your face, whilst girls hand you pizza and nachos… needless to say my companion took full advantage of this offer and at one point had two girls by his side loading slice after slice on to his plate. There is also a huge karaoke screen in the centre of the stage and girls shrieking to various wedding-esque floor fillers. This is all before I reached my seat, and to be honest I quickly realised that this show is all about having a bit of fun, and it was necessary to just go with whatever was presented in this 90-minute piece.
Written by Andrew Beckett and running for two years at St Luke’s theatre, Off-Broadway, this piece offers a light-hearted romp about two men wanting to get married. The pair are given their blessing by Anthony’s mother on the condition that the family Pastor marries them and that both mothers attend the wedding. Naturally, neither of these things is possible, and an elaborate web of lies is constructed in order for the wedding to go ahead. The plans are unravelled by a witch of an ex-boyfriend, but quickly reconciled by a bit of karaoke… OK, so it’s not Pinter, but if you try hard to let all your assumptions go about what makes good theatre, then this is an enjoyable act.
Ben Vivian Jones and Robert Hannouch are well paired as the cutesy couple ready to get married. Jones plays the role of the “boy in love” very well, his believable portrayal of the character is well paced and complements the more grounded nature of Hannouch’s performance as his boyfriend. Had the pair been miscast it would have made the whole story very difficult to stick with, and the story develops nicely around them both, particularly in a warm scene between them.
The ensemble worked hard over a mix of suspect Italian American accents but allowed the nature of the performance to be sustained. Lillie Collier as Connie in particular stood out as a great character actress, and had many in stitches from her facial expressions alone.
Ceris Hine as Anthony’s sister Maria sings a beautiful rendition of Ave Maria at the wedding which breaks from the flamboyant farce for a few minutes to showcase her talent. This quickly reverts back to mayhem as she sings a pop version, so that the audience can make no mistake in thinking that the piece is shying away from being brash.
Andrew Beckett as Maurizio, the wedding planner, is clearly a comic actor. However, his presence on stage is so dominating it felt that rather than working with the ensemble he was out for himself. Some moments of his ‘Jack Mcfarland’ characterisation went a little too far at times, leaving the audience quiet and slowing the momentum of the story.
Again I am aware this piece isn’t Ayckbourn and in no way does it try to be, but at times the story is completely upstaged by the actions of other characters. This is a real shame, as (for example) Rebecca Hickey sliding slowly into a drunken splits before slamming face first into the floor had the audience howling with laughter, but I couldn’t tell you anything about the plot at that moment as two characters continued to talk on the opposite side of the stage unnoticed.
My Big Gay Italian Wedding is brash, loud and very much in your face. By committing to that and not shying away from it, the audience are in for a fun time. With strong all round performances, with a little tightening up and awareness of taking focus this show could return again and again.
My Big Gay Italian Wedding is playing at Above The Stag Theatre until 19 November. Information and tickets can be found on the Above The Stag Website.