Review: Taken in Marriage, Waterloo East Theatre

“It’s too hard to be a man. And very few of them do it well, when they do it at all.”

It’s not too difficult to see what might have enticed RoL’n Productions to Thomas Babe’s 1979 play Taken in Marriage in the first place. As a company determined “to provide opportunities for the many talented yet underrepresented women in this industry”, a piece for 5 actresses would certainly appeal but it is hard to see how that attraction didn’t fade upon further examination of the text for it really doesn’t feel like a strong piece of writing.

In a New Hampshire church hall, the rehearsal for Annie’s imminent marriage to Henry is about to start and gathering her mother, aunt and sister around her along with a Texan wedding singer wanting to get paid, this should be a time for happiness. Instead, they find themselves sequestered in a basement revealing new aspects of their personalities and confronting any number of long-hidden home truths because, well, that’s what you do in a play.

Babe lacks any real grip on his own voice in this play, so it soon becomes clear trying to create 5 new female voices was far beyond him. Not a one of these characters talks in a manner recognisable as human and worse, there’s not even any consistency in what he does – florid literary prose, cheesy TV-movie sentiment, sub-Wildean wit which does admittedly have its moments (“I don’t approve of mixed marriages – men and women”), the tone forever skitters about. 

Which given that nothing really happens in the play, the attention falling squarely on the dialogue, means its hard to care about what’s happening. Liane Grant’s embittered older sister is lumbered with a ridiculous back story of 5 failed marriages, Jeryl Burgess’ too-faint mother is pathologically afraid of conflict, Alex Critoph’s bride isn’t given sufficient substance for her to involve us in her dilemma, Joan Plunkett’s plain-speaking Helen is the one vivid enough character to evoke an emotional response. 

There’s strong work from Roxanne Lamendola as all-round entertainer Dixie, the dance sequence she leads one of the show’s most effective scenes, but her continued presence in the room is dramatically baffling, the opening and final focus on her just odd. Lucy Atkinson’s production struggles with the weakness of the material and can’t even bring out any underlying themes because there just aren’t any. One leaves the theatre wishing you could leave this play at the aisle. 

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes (with interval) 
Photograph: Rea Clarke 
Booking until 18th July

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