Always a Bridesmaid

By Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten. Castle Hill Players. Director: Meredith Jacobs. Pavilion Theatre, Castle Hill. 9th April – 1st May, 2021
Reviewed : April 5, 2021
Photo : Chris Lundie

Being a bridesmaid is pretty special! It doesn’t happen often. Once – or maybe twice at the most – but these gals get to do it even more often! Sometimes for the same bride! At the same reception house! Four bridesmaids, four brides, and a flamboyant meddlesome “mistress of the house”!

It’s a recipe for fun, and that’s just what director Meredith Jacobs has cooked up! With lots of colour and pace, she has developed this happy little play into a slick, entertaining piece of theatre.

The concept may sound simple, but the ‘fun’ takes place over seven years – and over seven years things change – especially fashion, style and décor. With weddings and wedding venues involved, the audience might expect something special.

Jacobs and her designers don’t disappoint! The set, designed by the very elusive Trevor Chaise, could well be a genuine suite in a ‘grand old’ Virginian plantation mansion. It is impressively realistic and thoughtfully decorated. Watch for the meticulous attention to detail – and the explicit changes over time.

Similar care – and quite a lot of time I imagine – has been taken with the costumes. Four weddings, three of them for ‘mature’ brides and bridesmaids, over seven years, in four scenes, means at least twenty costume changes, some of which have to be exactly the same! According to the program, it took a team of five talented ‘researchers’ to find the many suitably tasteful – and sometimes appropriately outrageous – costumes the play required.

Fast costume changes are never easy, especially when they demand a degree of ‘ceremonial’ fastidiousness, but this very disciplined cast handle each complicated change with professional aplomb, bringing their bridal party characters back on stage just a tad older but impeccably coiffured. Well, except for one, but that is perfectly in character!

Too much about design, you may think. Not so. Plays such as this depend greatly on ‘place and time’ for the action to work. This set clearly fixes the place for the audience. James Winters uses lighting to define the ambience. Joshua McNulty’s bright original music recorded by the Film Harmonia Orchestra distinguishes the mood. With all that done, the cast take the stage in scenes filled with humour, anxious, twitchy pre-wedding stress – and skilfully directed action and pace.

Photo : Chris Lundie

Kari Ames Bissette (Chantal Vavasour) is the first bride we meet – in front of the curtain! In a wedding dress that sparkles just as brightly as the champagne she sips, Kari is beginning her bridal speech, which she continues in between-scene snippets throughout the evening – a sneaky ploy devised by the playwrights to offset the costume changes. Vavasour carries off the cumulative effect of the champagne cleverly as the play progresses– and makes a special appearance in the final scene.

The first of the more mature brides is Monette Gentry. This is her third wedding, and her school friends have come to support her once again. Meredith Jacobs herself has stepped into this role due to a “last minute change in the bridal party”. It is good to see Jacobs on the stage again, and she brings to the role the same energy and passion she expects of her cast. Her Monette is stylish, confident, a little bit haughty, even a little tough, but still ‘one of the girls’ – who are all clearly established in this first, funny scene.

There is Libby Ruth Ames, played by Gina Willison, new to the stage and doing a sterling job as the very organised and motherly Libby Ruth. She irons, tidies, commiserates and placates. It is clear she has always been the conciliator whom the others turn to for a sympathetic ear.

Penny Johnson is Deedra Wingate, the most steadfast of the foursome. She has to be, she is a judge after all. Johnson’s Deedra is upright, respectable, aware of her position – and just a little bit distant in her relationship with the others. Until the third scene, when things get completely out of her control.

Photo : Chris Lundie

Then there is Charley Collins! A bit awkward, a bit self-conscious … and still single! This character is a gift for an actor who has good timing and strong comedic skills – and Leigh Scanlon has both. She makes Charley lovably gauche, endearingly self-effacing and very funny.

All four ‘bridesmaids’, and eventually Kari too, are effectively corralled by Annette Snars as Sedalia Ellicott, event organiser extraordinaire. Snars plays Sedalia with exuberant verve, sweeping around the stage like a veritable whirlwind, hurrying preparations along, puffing decorative pillows, fussing, agitating and advising.

Jacobs, with assistant director Julian Floriano and her creative design team, has produced a strong ensemble production that will be a safe and entertaining injection for audiences anxious to forget for a while the perplexities of the real world.

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine