THE WEDDING at Bristol Old Vic

Gecko Theatre’s latest show is many things.  It is partly political polemic, partly pure dance and partly an allegory about relationships.  However, it is wholly a triumph, whatever meaning the audience chose to endow it with.

Physical theatre performed this well is rarely seen and when combined with breath-taking originality, theatrical verve and laugh aloud wit, the production delivers a stunning assault on the senses.  Artistic Director Amit Lehav believes in allowing productions time to grow and his shows have a long gestation period.  This one started in development in 2015 and has only now begun a national tour.

The piece starts out with performers enacting their own gestation, emerging through a long green chute to the sounds of childbirth ringing around the theatre, clutching teddy bears while greeted by an over-excited matron with a clipboard.  They then don wedding dresses, which become symbols of social cohesion and an interconnected union with the state.  The characters soon morph through a series of tableaus including working in tense Kafkaesque work booths before experiencing varying degrees of mental stress, breakdown and in some cases, divorce itself.

There has been some commentary around the show reflecting Britain undergoing its own breach with the rest of Europe and although this has some resonance, The Wedding is most definitely not a dance show about Brexit.

At times, the exact meaning of some scenes may be difficult to fathom and this is when the sheer vitality of the piece takes centre stage and the narrative thread combines with the physical action to mesmerise and fascinate.

The Wedding is able to generate laughter, not only with absurdist images and postures that it creates, but also with genuine anarchic Marx Brothers moments.  A hilarious episode around a disjointed individual called Hallid who emerges from a suitcase captures this sheer lovable wackiness.  Hallid performs a number of exotic, part Middle Eastern, part vaudeville song and dance busking routines, followed out of the same case by his wife, a card shark magician and a laughing maniac who somehow fit into the themes around dislocation and disorder.

Original music from Dave Price creates a richly immersive experience as the sounds sweep around the theatre, complemented by the performers’ expertly synchronised claps, stamps and whoops. Rhys Jarman’s design incorporates a series of booths, dressing rooms and bizarrely tall dinner tables to great effect, stamping the impression that this is a mirror world to the familiar.  The signature set usually features a man in a wedding dress seated under a veil and standard lamp in a high backed chair, and after a while this appears the most normal thing in the world.

All nine performers give total commitment and the clowning, mime and swirling, whirling dance routines deliver a breath taking 80 minutes of exuberance.  Audiences will leave the theatre with a mixture of elation, exhaustion and emotional encounter.

This can be a challenging night with ambiguity at the heart of many of the scenes, but whichever way they are interpreted the show delivers a storming, thoughtful and ultimately uplifting evening.     ★★★★★     Bryan Mason    20th January 2018