Now West Dorset resident Chris Chibnall, best known recently for writing Broadchurch (and now its sequel), has turned his attention to the family trials and tribulations of organising such an event, specially for Salisbury Playhouse.
Commissioned by the theatre’s artistic director Gareth Machin, who had worked with Chibnall at Bristol Old Vic, Worst Wedding Ever opened to triumphant applause at the Playhouse last week, assuring the writer of a hit that should run and run as it cleverly and very wittily exposes one family’s story of hopes, fears, intentions and disasters.
Set firmly in the West Country, most of the action is in Mel and Liz’s back garden.
It all starts as daughter Rachel and her mother are out wedding shopping at John Lewis’s.
But Rachel and her gentle fiance Scott have a bombshell to drop – they don’t want a vastly expensive wedding with all the trimmings. They can’t afford it, and what they want is a quiet “do” for close family and friends.
The reason’s aren’t only financial – Rachel’s family is Dysfunctional, and, in Scott’s eyes, quite barmy.
The first act is achingly funny, packed with hilarious lines that has the audience gasping for enough breath for the next laugh.
It would be very easy to fill any review with spoilers, and that would be a pity, as it’s a show that you really ought to go and see at the theatre for which it was created before it heads off into the big outside world.
Like all families this one has secrets and skeletons, and the playwright subtly weaves not just acute humour but carefully observed psychology, creating characters that are much more than the caricatures of soaps and “reality” television.
In many ways, Worst Wedding Ever is Ayckbourn-plus. It’s hard not to care about almost all those on stage, from the unshakably organising Liz to Graeme the vicar, struggling to retain God in a material world, from the disappointed sister Alison to her blundering father Mel.
And it’s all brilliantly staged, with a live band popping up in extraordinary places – something musical supervisor Kate Edgar knows all about from her Return to the Forbidden Planet experience.
An inspired Gareth Machin directs with a perfect ear for nuance and eye for detail.
Carolyn Pickles relishes the wonderful role of Liz, with Rudi Dharmalingam as the bemused Scott and Rebecca Oldfield and Rosie Wyatt as the devoted but wildly different sisters.
If there is a jarring note it is Oliver Bennett’s perpetually wired performance as the ostensibly laid-back Andy, not allowing for any explosive undercurrents. (And I’m not too sure about the title!)
The play is touching, often excruciatingly funny, colourfully and inventively staged, and it deserves full houses at Salisbury until 19th April.