REVIEW: The Wedding Speech, Purple Moon Drama (VAULT Festival)

*Content warning: This review contains discussion of co-dependency and abusive relationships*

Purple Moon Drama is currently presenting The Wedding Speech at VAULT Festival, ahead of a two-night run at Soho Theatre in March. This powerful single-hander offers a heartbreaking yet humorous look at co-dependent family relationships. We were invited along to Network Theatre for the press performance on Tuesday evening.

Written by Cheryl May Coward-Walker, The Wedding Speech follows Rose (Princess Donnough) on a journey of self-discovery as she learns to break free from the chains of a toxic relationship with her narcissistic mother. The setting for her epiphany? The ladies’ loos at her mother’s wedding, where she is preparing to make a speech. After years of emotional abuse, Rose has been conditioned to try and please her mother at all costs, but nothing is ever enough. Will she take to the stage as a dutiful daughter and still receive the inevitable criticism? Or will she finally speak her truth?

Photo credit: Emma Nwachuku. Set design by Paula Chitty.

It’s a brilliant piece of writing from Coward-Walker which utilises spoken-word very effectively. Almost the entire piece is in verse, but it’s delivered so naturally by Donnough that you almost don’t notice. She gives an assured, impressive performance throughout, not only embodying her own character but also giving us glimpses of her mother (and various other family members) as she recounts her life leading up to this moment. The juxtaposition of well-placed comedy gives power to the darker moments (mirrored by powerful lighting), creating a balanced and compelling piece of work.

There is also a real depth to the writing, with Rose’s mother not being an inexplicably terrible person but instead the victim of unspoken childhood experiences that shape her adult life and her relationships with her children. With Rose herself due to become a mother, the production explores the issue of how to heal inter-generational trauma.

It’s well-directed by Simone Watson-Brown, effectively bringing the audience into Rose’s world as she rehearses her speech in front of us. We are her confidants and by the time the fateful moment comes we are fully invested in the outcome of the speech. We feel each microaggression she experiences, both past and present. With each memory she recounts, and every knock on the bathroom door, we see how she has has been beaten down over the years. And for all the self-awareness she displays, we feel how impossible she finds it to stop herself seeking the connection and approval of someone who has caused her so much harm.

Overall, The Wedding Speech is a compelling exploration of co-dependency which effectively blends comedy and drama to create something deeply moving. With so much choice at VAULT Festival, this one may not have jumped out at you from the programme, but we would highly recommend fitting it into your schedule. Or catch it at Soho Theatre next week.

The Wedding Speech plays at VAULT Festival from 21 to 24 February 2023 before a two night run at Soho Theatre from 1 to 2 March 2023. We received complimentary tickets to the performance on 21 February.