“By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you will be happy. If you get a bad one, you will be a philosopher.” Socrates may not have actually said those words but, even apocryphally, they express a cynicism about marriage that pervades through history to the modern day. There were half as many mixed-sex weddings in 2019 as there were just fifty years earlier and, beyond its financial and legal benefits, the very value of marriage has never been in more doubt.
Gecko’s The Wedding returns to the Barbican after an initial run in 2019 as part of the London International Mime Festival (a curious choice considering that thirteen different languages are spoken in this production). The Ipswich-based company here explore the concept of marriage initially in a very literal way before looking at its many metaphorical connotations to examine the contractual agreements within society.
The opening scene is wonderful. High-pitched screams ringing around the auditorium precede the arrival of barely-clad men and women as they pop one by one from a large tube, ditch their teddy bear onto an ever-increasing pile (an unsubtle reference to 1 Corinthians 11), don a swish white wedding dress and then join a high-energy Jewish wedding ceremony. Soon enough, a regretful bride tries to make her way back up the tube, alas to no avail.
This blend of social commentary and comedy streaks through each subsequent episode. We meet a family of immigrants who emerge with Minions-like squawk-talk and slapstick from a piece of improbably small luggage and proceed to busk for the front row; when one of them notices that there is nothing in the collection cup, her husband waves his arm towards the audience, shrugs and says (with tongue firmly in cheek) “Barbican”. Office workers “married to the job” are portrayed as cubicle-dwelling drones drowning in a blame culture and endless meetings. Overseeing all this, society’s highest echelons are visually represented by people eating around a table some seven foot off the ground who, in the final scene, are violently dragged down to earth.
Gecko use a wildly engaging blend of music, choreography, character work and set design and lighting to bring these disparate scenes to life their exciting, provocative and complex view of one of history’s most long-lasting institutions. The Wedding’s direction is jumpy and constantly keeps us on the hop. That’s not completely surprising given that one of its ambitions, according to the programme, is that the audience “should have a feeling of being perplexed”. Even if it is sometimes hard to work out what is happening or what the characters are saying, there’s a commendable amount of commentary for the 80-minute running time and a sense that repeat viewing will be rewarded by added insights and a deeper understanding of the themes
The Wedding continues at the Barbican until 11 June.
Image: Rocio Chacon