The Secret Bridesmaids’ Business

(Front Row Theatre Company)


A good play and a wedding have a lot in common. They each require hours of meticulous planning and careful arrangement, both need someone to remember at least a few lines on the day and both can contain a cast of thousands but are generally made successful by a dedicated few.

The dedicated few working for Front Row Theatre should be proud then of their production of Elizabeth Coleman’s play. The cast of seven has done a magnificent job in keeping a tight script rolling over the play’s two acts. The result is a laugh-out-loud take on the pitfalls of marriage and commitment.

Meg (Michelle Atkinson) is the bride-to-be, brimming with excitement on the eve of her big day as she and mother Colleen (Julie Bray) go over last minute preparations in their hotel room. Joining the pre-wedding party is bridesmaid Lucy (Emily Gilhome), the still-single straight shooting friend unable to appreciate the excitement of wedding planning, and Angela (Tanya Schneider), the friend who married young and moved to the suburbs.

As the big event nears Lucy drops a bombshell when she secretly tells Angela that she thinks Meg’s fiancé James (Matt Bell) has been having an affair. Is it true? Should they tell Meg or is it better not to spoil her (and her mother’s!!) carefully laid plans?

The key to this play’s success is in its cast. The dedicated few certainly show that rehearsals have paid their dividend. The script moves along at a very quick pace and the principals do a commendable job in delivering their lines with not only the comedic wit needed to pull the jokes off put also the right expressions to accompany them.

Julie Bray steals scenes as the single-minded mother Colleen living vicariously through her daughter. Often a nervous look or a hurried movement across the stage are enough for her to elicit a laugh or applause from the audience.

The character of Lucy has the best lines in the play. Gilhome puts in a good performance, delivering Lucy’s jaded views on relationships with razor sharp wit, almost running away with a couple of scenes.

Atkinson as the excited bride Meg is full of life and is entirely convincing as the woman who has thought about her wedding day since she was a little girl. As the pivotal character of the play she has a demanding role but pulls it off effortlessly. Perhaps the only flaw of Meg’s character appears when she goes from being indecisive and pitiful in the company of the other actors on stage to being totally candid and insightful about her predicament when she addresses the audience this is however an issue with the script and not the individual’s talent.

Each of the roles is played well and I saw no evidence of inexperience or nerves displayed by those involved. Bray projected her voice a bit louder than was needed in the comfortable surrounds of the Hamilton Town Hall but this did not detract from the production and if anything added to the anxious nature of mother Colleen. The characters were all convincing, whether it was the fretful mother, the cynical friend or the smarmy (really smarmy actually) husband-to-be and the chemistry between Meg and her bridesmaids ensured the jokes came thick and fast.

As the play relies on character interaction and fast, flowing dialogue there is not much required by the set designers to bring the production to life. The play is set in Meg’s hotel room for both acts and aside from the odd glass of champagne and some ribbon little is used in the way of props. Still the set is a convincing hotel room and there is enough room (and exits) for the cast to use without the production looking cramped.

Appropriate music is used to open and close each scene and the spotlight is used to good effect when each of the principals has their time to tell the audience their own personal views. As a small theatre company, it would be safe to assume that Front Row’s forte lies in the strength of its members and their acting skills, not in extensive lighting rigs and big musical productions, and Secret Bridesmaids’ Business is all the better for it.

Finally, credit must go to the joint effort of directors Liddy Clark and Jo Peirce. Co-directing a play that relies on such tight movement and acting must have been a challenge, and they have done an excellent job. To me, the crucial ingredient of the play’s success was how the cast managed to put themselves in the right place at the right time and deliver a line or raise an eyebrow to deliver the desired comedic effect. The way the play flowed from scene to scene, keeping a pace and never slowing or sagging in the middle is a testament to the good direction it received from Clark and Peirce.

A few people may read the title of this play (mainly guys) and think, ‘oh here we go, another girlie play’ and I guess Secret Bridesmaids’ Business is going to appeal to women more than men because of it focus on relationships and commitment from a female perspective. However this reviewer, who is paternally inclined, did not find that to be the case and laughed the whole way through. The old themes of commitment, friendship and love are examined but are done so thanks to some classic lines. As Lucy says, “Weddings suck they force decent people to lie.”

— Toby Walker
(Performance seen: Thu 29th May 2003)