Familiar stories: A Wedding Reception (gone wrong) Will & Kate in The Wedding Reception. Photo: Alex Brenner.

Familiar stories: A Wedding Reception (gone wrong)

Jenna Simeonov

In the midst of a opera- and concert-going calendar filled with music, sometimes there’s beautiful perspective to be found in non-musical live theatre. After a fun, cult-following-inspired night out at London’s Faulty Towers Dining Experience, we tried out a similar style of interactive dinner theatre with The Wedding Reception, currently playing at the Kingsway Hotel in Covent Garden.

The premise is simple and classic: the well-meaning parents of the bride throw a surprise wedding reception for the newlyweds, and over dinner, about 100 strangers get to gawk and laugh over the airing out of family baggage. It’s constantly impressive to watch performers work in situations where there are lots of variables; the cast of four wasted no time bringing the audience into their characters’ plans for the evening. We met the mother-of-the-bride, the woman who talks too loudly and too much, but who has emergency snacks stashed in her purse; Ricky, the best man, was already plotting a joke on the groom; the father-of-the-bride was peddling his charming bed & breakfast (The Twig & Berries, natch); the wedding planner was all limp wrists and stressed huffs across the room.

As we finally met the newlyweds, Will & Kate, what stayed funny was the familiarity of the entire scene. The stereotypes were well-chosen, and they allowed the diners some common ground for conversation with their table-mates. The short interactions at the top of the show between “guests” and actors continued to pay off; the audience felt connected and in-the-know with this weird family, freeing them to shout out their two cents at the goings-on. (“What a twat,” was one oft-proclaimed phrase, aimed toward the groom.)

Ricky & Kate in The Wedding Reception, Covent Garden, 2017.

Maybe it’s for the same reason that people like to find out how magicians do their tricks, but interactive theatre seems to satisfy the curious in a way that a traditional stage often can’t. The pacing of the show and the constant variables from the audience would make it a tricky formula in the world of music theatre; yet by now, opera companies are at least well aware of the power of small venues. The Wedding Reception had us thinking of the 21st-century operatic ideas like opera pub nights - recently brought with enormous hype to Toronto by Against the Grain Theatre - and the work of folks like Pocket Concerts, who lovingly shove the thrill of chamber music into cozy venues like homes and offices.

The Wedding Reception. Photo by Alex Brenner.

It’s not just proximity that makes things like opera pubs, Bohèmes in bars, and dinner theatre interesting; The Wedding Reception managed to show their theatrical cards - like how the actors were clearly playing more than one character - by adding in self-aware jokes. As a result, the audience felt included in the “magician’s tricks”; similarly, watching opera in a small space lets an audience see pieces of the craft, like how their bodies expand with enormous breath, how they sneak glances at a conductor. It’s no disillusionment; it’s enormously impressive that actors and singers can do their jobs well, and that skill isn’t lost on listeners.

The Wedding Reception runs until April 29 at the Kingsway Hotel, before heading to Brighton Fringe, Edinburgh Fringe, and then all the way to Australia. Find out details and grab your tickets by clicking here.

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