Wayside Bride review – a loving tribute to an Australian religious rebel | Stage

Date:

The late Australian Rev Ted Noffs, nominally Methodist, embraced the rich kaleidoscope of chaos that comes with championing the discarded and downtrodden. He was accused by his own church hierarchy of heresy for his disavowal of doctrine that Christ’s suffering would save the world; he believed, as demonstrated by his deeds, that we on Earth could save ourselves.

Ministering to misfits – itinerant people, sex workers, drug users and the mentally shattered – Noffs founded the Wayside Chapel in Sydney’s Kings Cross in 1964, personally marrying thousands of couples in the face of bigotry against interreligious and interracial unions.

Among the people he married was writer Alana Valentine’s late mother and stepfather. In photographs from the wedding day, her mother, Janice looks happy, having “found someone to marry her and take on her kids”, we learn in Valentine’s new play, Wayside Bride, co-directed by Hannah Goodwin and Eamon Flack.

Valentine specialises in verbatim theatre: interviewing real-life subjects then basing her plays upon these conversations. For this funny and profoundly relevant new work, interviews begin at home, as we meet fictionalised versions of adult Alana and Janice, played by Emily Goddard and Sacha Horler.

Emily Goddard.
Emily Goddard in Wayside Bride. Photograph: Brett Boardman

Janice’s shell has hardened over the years, clamming up when Alana tries to interview her mother about her Wayside wedding: sentimentality, she chides, won’t grant the playwright perception or insight. But then, the stage version of Alana dons her mother’s wedding dress as a second skin – going “undercover in my own play”, she quips – and time travels to meet others who passed through Noffs’ earthly waystation.

Wayside Bride becomes a tribute to real love and belonging, as well as a paean to Noffs’ notion of accepting, rather than trying to “fix”, people, while also acknowledging the wrinkles: the devotion of Noffs and his wife, Margaret, to the forgotten people of inner Sydney came at the expense of time spent on their marriage and with their children.

An ensemble of 10 actors performs multiple roles: best selves, shadow selves, self-loathing selves. Horler switches from playing Janice to Margaret,while Brandon McClelland plays Ted, in a powder-blue safari suit with brown tie and white shoes. Both actors are dynamic on stage, imbuing the couple with dramatic force and appealing humour. The real Ted died in 1995, but Margaret died only last December at the age of 95, prompting Valentine to write “this was the passing of a great Australian, a compassionate, extraordinary person who, no less than Ted, was responsible for the establishment of the remarkable Wayside Chapel”.

There is authenticity and warmth in Valentine’s carousel of humanity: Wiradjuri and Yuin actor Angeline Penrith plays Justine, spirited and full of life despite believing her mother abandoned her in the crib; she later learns she was stolen from her mother, a cruelty inflicted on many Indigenous Australians. Marco Chiappi plays wide-eyed, gesticulating Sean, sleeping with his cockney bride-to-be Joan (Sandy Greenwood) in their car – then switches to playing a high-camp gay man who is inveigled by Margaret to walk a fatherless stranger down the aisle.

Actor Rebecca Massey
‘Rebecca Massey wrings some of the funniest lines.’ Photograph: Brett Boardman

Rebecca Massey wrings some of the funniest lines, playing an interjecting gossip in a beehive hairdo, then a risque actor, then a sex worker with the nom de plume Dusty, alongside her working girl pal Blossom (Greenwood again). And Maggie Blinco brings range as an archetypal mad woman, speaking poetry and paranoia, nonsense and great sense; and then as a dignified grandmother, who recalls her marriage at Wayside almost 50 years before to a Vietnamese Australian, whom her family struggled to accept because he was not white.

A tightening of the script in a couple of spots might be useful. The name checking of a lot of Noffs’ contemporaries does not hold much dramatic interest. And given the presence of a juke box and several unplayed musical instruments around the stage, more music suggestive of the given era could have enhanced the first act in particular.

People in all their permutations and at their most vulnerable are the heart of Wayside Bride, raw and unvarnished but rendered lovingly. Among those of us for whom conventional family life is less than ideal, we can picture ourselves in this misfit portrait. The final scene is a celebration of diversity, a perfect bouquet toss for these times.



Source link

Share post:

Subscribe

Popular

More like this
Related

10 Worst Games Redditors Still Play Despite Them Being Rage-Inducing

The festive season will be full of...

Brands Creating Gender-Fluid Collections | POPSUGAR Fashion

Fashion (with a capital F) is notoriously resistant...

Gary Larson’s Far Side Predicted The Future Of Video Games

Far Side's Gary Larson made a joke about...