Weddings are these huge institutions, best illustrated in Gracefool Collective’s latest piece in the form of The Dress. A proper eighties nightmare in diamante puffed sleeves, it swells and rises, literally engulfing performers and overshadowing the poor bride (in this sequence, Rachel Fullegar) completely. The photos are taken ‘for The Dress’, the family members and friends gather around it rather than her.
That’s the big boss that Gracefool are up against, and just an hour to tackle such a deeply ingrained part of society is a tall order. The approach taken is rather scattergun, the Collective setting out with grace and decorum to stick two fingers up at the traditions and expectations of weddings (note: not marriages, which get away pretty lightly here). It’s a noble effort, sure: watching Fullegar plunge her face into a beautifully iced cake feels like a release, a real eff you to every snooty aunt that ever was, but this action happens firmly in the background of another sequence. There’s too much here to draw the eye, and the foreground stuff is passed over so quickly it’s not given much time to settle in. You just want five minutes to reflect, so they say.
Up against The Dress, these barbed commentaries feel like nothing more than sticking pins being pushed into mounds of taffeta and underskirt. There’s an initial impact promised, but no guarantee on whether it’ll hit its mark or just hang there as a half-baked critique. Take the first choreographed routine to ‘Road to Nowhere’. It feels fantastic to see the brides take on aggressive roles, performing robotically over and over – but as the song continues and this is the only point that’s really being made, it creates a sequence of diminishing returns.
About halfway through there’s a pin that does really nick you in the middle, a refreshing glimpse into the full impact that could be delivered here when the talk turns to death. Big life events where death is the only way out of your binding contract do court some morbid thoughts, but these are never discussed alongside weddings. Gracefool confront this directly, our need to ignore death and weddings’ hand in hand relationship. Decked out in party guest attire, the performers dance relentlessly, ignoring those around them who are keeling over and choking. Those same old routines come out again and again, regardless of the carnage happening simultaneously. This is fantastically tongue-in-cheek segment and offers a key glimpse to what this show could become. It’s pumped with promise, and other elements pale in comparison. Slating the best man’s speech? It’s low-hanging fruit and lacks the nuance of the scene we’ve just seen.
There’s a lot still to be ironed out of this devised piece before it lives up to the hype of ‘This really is too much’, Gracefool’s 2017 Fringe hit. Moments glimmer, and there’s some fire to the anger of This is not a wedding, but not enough to give the show real conviction.