Giggling to the altar… or are they?

What is it with wedding-themed plays lately? We review MADC's romantic comedy, now playing at St James Cavalier.

I do, really: David Ellul and Cathy Lawlor share a rare sombre moment in MADC’S romantic comedy Secret Bridesmaids’ Business.
I do, really: David Ellul and Cathy Lawlor share a rare sombre moment in MADC’S romantic comedy Secret Bridesmaids’ Business.

As if it weren't enough that it's wedding season in the real world, it seems as though local theatre has decided to pick up on the prevailing mood, with two of our most prominent theatres staging nuptial dramas pretty much neck-and-neck.

Mid-May saw the unveiling of Simone Spiteri's baroque and long anticipated adaptation of Lorca's Blood Wedding at the Manoel Theatre which, when stripped bare, becomes a terminal tragedy in which human passion is seen as an all-encompassing, ultimately destructive force dictated upon us by an uncaring universe.

A more recent offering from - it must be said - the generally gentler MADC is, perhaps predictably, less of a wrenching affair.

For her next directorial outing, actress Chiara Hyzler chose a romantic comedy by Australian playwright Elizabeth Coleman to stage over three weekends at St James Cavalier - ending this Sunday.

Secret Bridesmaids' Business is as far as you're ever going to get from the Grand Guignol stylings of Blood Wedding. But don't let the title fool you: neither is it in any way similar to the bawdy, rude Hollywood surprise hit comedy Bridesmaids (2011).

Which is a bit of a shame.

If one may be crude, a 'toilet accident' - the central set piece of the aforementioned film - could have spiced up an otherwise generally pleasant but ultimately safe evening out.

It is the eve of Meg's (Cathy Lawlor) wedding to her financially stable and supposedly loving husband James (David Ellul). Ensconced in a posh hotel room with her fussy mother Colleen (Vanessa MacDonald) and her two bridesmaids - the prim-and-proper Angela (Kate Decesare) and the promiscuous and vocal Lucy (Nicola Abela Garrett) - Meg is emotional but certain about the next step in her life.

But when the streetwise Lucy hears word that Meg's Prince Charming may be just a little too charming for his own good, as whispers of an affair with the vampish Naomi Bartlett (Elektra Anastasi) prove to be more and more credible, the bridesmaids are left at an impasse.

Should they tell Meg (what they assume to be) the truth, thus running the risk of ruining her fairytale wedding for good? Would it be better to just keep their mouths shut, and allow Meg to marry into a lie?

The familiar set up - even the 'twists' will come as a surprise to only a few - allows for a cosy comedy to develop, and the play drew plenty of laughs thanks to the easy and relatable camaraderie illustrated by Coleman's script.

While the girls are shooting the breeze - and sharing the booze - in the hotel room everything's just fine: the jokes sometimes veer on the corny side but the dialogue is largely forgivable, by virtue of being genuine. The exquisitely built

set, blended seamlessly into the theatre-in-the-round, contributes to the fantasy - a snuggly, and altogether 'girly' cream-coloured cocoon.

It's when the plot kicks into proper gear that the problems start.

Being such a standard example of its genre, there's very little to be excited about in terms of what's going to happen next. And neither can the cast really flex their dramatic muscles far enough to be memorable; the characters are so set in their respective moulds that there's very little for them to do.

Surprisingly enough, this particular pitfall of the script becomes most glaring with Abela Garrett's Lucy. Because she is the token 'rebel' of the group, every line feels affected, put in there to 'shock' her friends and - with dreadful futility - the audience, for whom most of her sexual escapades read like a PG-rated version of a Sex and the City episode.

Though the role doesn't eat up all that much of the play's one-and-a-half-hour running time, it's Anastasi who emerges as the most memorable of the bunch. Putting paid to the adage that villains have the most fun - and wearing skimpy lingerie like a true champ - her teary monologue (every character gets one) is a joy to savour. She gets the opportunity to step out of the blandly 'realistic' setup of the rest of the play and indulge in theatrics more akin to vintage Hollywood femme fatales.

But the most striking performance belongs to David Ellul. Ellul, known for his role as a virile porn actor in Malcolm Galea's Porn: The Musical (you may recall him singing about his 'P.H.D.') in fact delivers the entirety of his lines in an impenetrable and perfectly rhythmic baritone which suggests, in fact, that he's about to break into raucous song. So that even when he's driven to desperation by the prospect of his fiancé leaving him, he still sounds like a confident, put-together individual.

If Hyzler meant this silken-voiced android to serve as a critique of the unfeeling collective masculine psyche, it was a stroke of genius.

The Secret Bridesmaids' Business will be showing for one last weekend at St James Cavalier, Valletta.

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