Theatre / darkstuff productions

Preview: Happily…Never…After

By steve wright, Wednesday May 24, 2017

By popular demand, Darkstuff Productions’ wedding reception from hell sets sail again.

Following last September’s sell-out run, Bristol site-specific specialists Darkstuff re-launch their water-bound evening of confetti, cake and complete chaos aboard Bristol Ferry Boats’ Matilda.

Happily…Never…After takes a darkly comic look at the wedding party, teasing out a story of secrets, lies and bad buffets. Audiences will take a turbulent 90-minute journey up the Avon as a wedding guest of Clint and Mary’s. Things get a little choppy as the drinks flow and tempers rise, with four guests threatening to capsize the big night.

Live music provided by The Sapphire Experience – so guests are invited to let rip with their favourite karaoke song and dress to impress. Expect a very funny and truly immersive evening of drunken speeches, bad singing and some truly terrible behaviour.

Below, Darkstuff’s Simon Harvey-Williams and Phil John introduce the show.

Just how immersive (arf!) will the night be? Not many places to hide on a boat… should shrinking violets stay away?
Whenever I go to stand-up comedy shows or theatre performances involving any kind of audience participation I always do my best to not to be involved as I’m a bit of a shrinking violet myself. I always bear this fact in mind whenever we’re staging shows – particularly in small intimate venues like a ferry.  
There is only low-key audience participation on the ferry because although the audience feels a part of this nightmare wedding party, this is a scripted play rather than an immersive interactive experience. The actors/characters acknowledge the guests/audience, but people won’t be dragged up and asked to say anything or do anything embarrassing.

What made you want to do this unique show again?
Simon: First time around we had no idea we could actually pull the show off. A play on a moving boat did seem – and indeed was – a slightly bonkers idea because there was so much that potentially could go wrong. As soon as we had the idea though we knew we had to go through with it because we felt it had the potential to be very funny and for the venue to make the situation more intense.
We were pleasantly surprised at how few problems we encountered and we were amazed at how the audiences threw themselves into being guests at this toe-curlingly awful reception. Based on this audience reaction and how much fun we had we knew we had to bring it back again.

What experiences of wedding parties past have fed into the show?
Simon: I did actually go on a wedding reception on a ferry some years back but it was a lovely affair and thankfully in no way influenced the show. On the whole I’ve been lucky and the wedding receptions I have been to have gone fairly smoothly – apart from one falling out between the bride and groom’s families. Although nothing kicked off at this particular wedding, there was the sense that the day was just about holding together but if someone said the wrong thing it would descend into chaos. In our show there is a character who’s organising proceedings and a lot of the (black) comedy is about her trying to hold things together as events spiral out of control.

Why is the wedding party such rich comic/dramatic fodder?
I think the combination of social niceties, nerves and too much booze offer up a good source of comedic/dramatic material. Also weddings are often a place where people meet people from their past, so there’s a lot of dramatic mileage there. In Happily…Never…After, the three nightmare guests have a long connection with each other and with the groom, so much of what occurs during in the play is about things that have happened between them in the past and their personal differences threatening to ruin the newlyweds’ big day.
Weddings remain one of the most significant group events that an individual is involved in, save perhaps her/his own funeral, though inevitably you tend to miss that one. When you bring together a large group of people to witness the ritual of bonding one person to another then, there’s almost inevitably a heightened sense of emotion for all those gathered together. Weddings are performances – self-contained rituals that we undertake as family and friends.

Phil: With anything that is worth having there is inevitably a risk to gaining it. When you ask someone to marry you or commit to marrying someone in front of an audience, there’s always the potential for it all to go horribly wrong. The ‘Red Wedding’ from Game of Thrones is a decent example of one such ceremony that takes a bit of a turn for the worst. Though I’ve never been to a wedding where I’ve witnessed bride, groom, mother-in-law and most of the guests shot with cross-bow bolts, I have sometimes wished that was the case during the best man’s speech.
Wherever there is risk and tension, there is drama. In the case of a wedding reception, not far from all tis risk, tension and drama is somebody’s cousin chatting up a bridesmaid, somebody’s uncle throwing up in the car park, and somebody’s auntie getting stuck in a toilet.

You find some fine, unusual locations for your shows. Does that remain a central Darkstuff tenet – and if so, why?
When we started Darkstuff our aim was to find locations which really added to the atmosphere of our storytelling. We have used some amazing locations – a crypt, a city farm, different spaces at the Tobacco Factory Theatres. We did move away from the site-specific side of things and staged shows in more conventional theatre spaces, which was fine but Phil and I realised what got us really excited was the (pardon the pun) marrying the location to the piece of work.

Happily…Never…After June 11-15, 7.30pm, £16. Meet Cascade Steps, Harbourside. Duration: 90 mins. Fully licensed bar on board.
For more info and to book tickets, visit

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