Theatre: Preview: Happily… Never… After…

Steve Wright, September 19, 2016

Bristol’s Darkstuff Productions return with a water-bound new production in conjunction with Bristol Community FerryboatsHappily…Never…After… takes a darkly comic look at the wedding party, teasing out a story of secrets, lies and bad buffets.

The show takes place on the ferry boat Matilda, where the audience will be welcomed aboard by the cast and serenaded by a live wedding band. Multi-talented composer and musician and longtime Darkstuff collaborator Rarg will add to the atmosphere of authenticity, fun and just-about-under-control mayhem.

Step aboard for a theatrical journey up the Avon as a guest at the wedding reception from hell!  As the drinks flow and the speeches over-run a newlyweds’ big night hits choppy waters when four attendees not only rock the boat but threaten to capsize the whole wedding reception. An 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?
Simon:
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 will only be low-key audience participation on the ferry because although the audience will – hopefully – feel a part of this nightmare wedding party, this is a scripted play rather than an immersive interactive experience. The actors/characters will reference and acknowledge the guests/audience, but people won’t be dragged up and asked to say anything or do anything embarrassing.

The good ship Matilda, your wedding party venue for the evening

Tell us about the process of collaborating with Bristol Ferries. Were they instantly on board (!) or did they take some convincing?
Simon:
I assumed when I approached them with the idea of doing a play aboard one of their ferries that they would say no and find countless reasons why it wouldn’t work. But they were immediately into the idea and their own stipulation was that they could be the audience/guests for the dress rehearsal. They’ve trusted us to just get on with the show, which has been great.

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?
Simon:
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?
Simon:
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.

You’ve been away a little while. Remind readers what else, choice locations apart, is in the Darkstuff DNA?
Simon: After a two-year hiatus Phil and I realised that an important thing is to challenge ourselves and to not play it safe – which maybe we had started to do. Our ethos now is to come up with a big idea first – no matter how ridiculous or seemingly impossible – and worry about the logistics later. Apart from the search to find interesting sites and ways of telling stories, writing has always been at the heart of Darkstuff. The writing part is the bit we most enjoy and even though we’re in different parts of the country it’s exciting to collaborate and, hopefully, end with something that feels a complete piece.
Phil: We’re about Story. Trite, I guess, but true. We’ve been around for a while and only recently we have been reflecting on the work that we have done across Bristol. What excites us is matching stories which interest us with unique places to tell them. It’s not easy, it’s a puzzle for the whole team, from writing to rehearsal, music and performance and design it’s all a challenge: but that’s why it’s fun. Risk and reward – much like a wedding.

Happily… Never… After… is performed aboard Bristol Community Ferryboats’ Matilda from Mon, Sept 19 to Sat, Sept 23. For more info and to book tickets, visit www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/happily-never-after

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