Manchester Theatre Awards

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A Respectable Wedding (The Greater Manchester Fringe Festival)

Bertolt Brecht translated by Rory Bremner
Root & Branch Productions
53two, Manchester
10 July 2017 to 12 July 2017

Root & Branch Productions are so chuffed at securing comedian and impressionist Rory Bremner’s translation of Bertolt Brecht’s A Respectable Wedding that advance publicity builds the news into the title of the production. Yet, despite the sharp script, what impresses most about the show is simply the quality of the production. 

Comedy is hard at the best of times, and fringe theatre does not lend itself to knockabout shows in which a fair bit of the humour comes from physical routines and props falling apart. Fringe performers tend to prefer verbal humour and can be physically stiff when asked to take a pratfall. 

Bur director Lynne Whitaker has drilled the nine members of the cast into a tight working unit in which they all feed lines to each other and cheerfully crash around the stage when required. It is a high-quality production with a wide range of self-destructing props. The raised stage at 53two, another unusual fringe feature, gives all patrons a reasonable chance to see the action. 

Although most of the stage is taken up by a table, Whitaker ensures that the production never becomes static and that the cast are always in jittery, nervous motion - even managing to fit in a few dances. 

A Respectable Wedding is a single act play from early in the career of Bertolt Brecht, before he developed his taste for stark, epic theatre. What surprises most is how the plot pretty much acts as a template for contemporary TV sitcoms, with drunken guests, boring parents, scarcely concealed grudges and a pregnant bride. 

At the wedding reception for Jacob (Joe Geddes) and Maria (Poppy Stahelin), things are not going well.  It is hard to ignore that Maria has a fuller figure than might be expected. The furniture that Jacob has built by hand is turning out to be less hard-wearing than hoped. The bride’s father is a bore and cannot stop telling inappropriate stories, while a married couple are at each others' throats. The bride’s sister has eyes for a young man, and the groom’s friend is mixing alcohol with prescription medication and wants to read one of his poems. 

Although the class consciousness suggested by the title is absent, Bremner’s translation ensures that the show is contemporary and, more importantly, has all the nastiness that seems to bubble up when family gatherings involve alcohol. There is even a hint of genuine domestic violence towards the conclusion that ensures the show is not just for laughs. 

A Respectable Wedding continues the trend at the 2017 Fringe Festival for quality shows that, with a few more resources, would not look out of place in the mainstream.

Reviewer: David Cunningham