My Big Gay Italian Wedding – 5 stars

Above The Stag Theatre, London.

It’s testament to the exuberant fun and sheer spectacle – not to mention the first class performances – of this production, that I didn’t look down at my little pad once to make a note during the 90-minute running time.

Fresh from a hugely successful run at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, where it garnered an array of four- and five-star reviews, My Big Gay Italian Wedding explodes (yes, I said ‘explodes’ – it’s the only word that seems appropriate) onto the London stage full of energy, enthusiasm and confidence.

And rightly so. Director Paul Taylor-Mills has assembled an extremely talented cast (with a few changes from the Ed run, I notice) who work together to produce a very funny, very camp and, crucially, very entertaining show.

The story satirizes the controversies surrounding same-sex marriage as well as gay and Italian stereotypes. Anthony, a gay Italian-American from a large chaotic family, wants to marry his boyfriend Andrew in a traditional Italian ceremony. Anthony’s overbearing mother won’t give her blessing unless Andrew’s estranged mother also gives her blessing and the ceremony is performed by a priest. Matters are further complicated by Andrew’s ex-boyfriend, intent on breaking up the couple.

The story is simple and the characters are stereotypical and far from complex. As Taylor-Mills says of the piece in his programme notes, “no-one comes expecting a night of thought-provoking theatre”, and he has allowed some of his cast members a very long leash in order to wring out every possible laugh from the camp script.

In particular, Andrew Beckett as the wedding planner seems to have complete free reign, in a performance that is slightly reminiscent of Truman Capote and makes Martin Short’s turn in ‘Father Of The Bride’ look positively method. It’s almost as entertaining watching the rest of the cast trying not to corpse (they manage it admirably, by the way) as it is watching him cavort around the stage.

It’s perhaps a little unfair to single out one performance though, as this really is a stellar ensemble cast with no weak link. There are all sorts of stylistic influences in evidence – farce, pantomime, slapstick, music hall – and they are all handled perfectly by everyone. Plus, there are some wonderful individual comic moments that provide sheer delight and prompt spontaneous rounds of applause.

A play with some music and dance, the choreography is tight and well executed, and the simple yet highly effective design – which runs through the set and the costumes – is the icing on the cake.

Go and see this show. Leave any preconceptions you may have in the bar downstairs, and prepare to be thoroughly entertained.

(originally posted 3 November 2011)

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