THEATRE Joey and Gina's Wedding, Cafe Royal, London The matrimonial celebration where the audience simply has to join in the fun. By Liese Spencer

Liese Spencer
Friday 20 September 1996 23:02 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


T he address on the invitation for Joey and Gina's Wedding was the Cafe Royal, but any hopes of a swanky society wedding began to fade as we huddled in the drizzle outside a dark side-entrance. After a few minutes, we were ushered down to a basement and subjected to three hours of hyper-active, interactive theatre.

Looking back, there were warning signs. The publicity note: "If you're at the wedding... you're part of the action!" for one. But it was too late: here we were being greeted by party caterer Frankie Knight and his wife Dolly. Suddenly, everywhere there were "relatives" shaking your hand. Here was Johnny, the bald best man and his brother Vinnie, Lady Joy Wainright, cousin of the bride and Mrs Elizabeth Granata, the bride's mother.

The nuptials got under way with an introductory speech from Father Francis McCarthy, a priest from the Church of Our Lady of the Serious Wounds. We were gathered together to celebrate the union of Gina, a cockney girl from Bethnal Green and Joey, the perma-tanned offspring of a family of Chicago hoods. There were late arrivals and comic antics with the candles, speeches and songs. The Bethnal Green dynasty clashed with the Chicagoans. Actors in pimp suits drew improvisational inspiration from Scorsese, women in sequinned shoulder pads paid tribute to Pat from EastEnders.

As Hugh Grant will tell you, weddings, with their silly hats and family feuds, offer a gift-wrapped opportunity for accessible costume drama. The social and religious ritual makes for a ready-made theatre that follows conventions as closely determined as Greek tragedy. Like natural disasters, they open old wounds and reveal the true character of various players, arranged in a strict hierarchy of importance from the blood relative leads to gate-crashing bit-part players. They come with a pop soundtrack and lashings of sentimentality.

To this model, director Jay Leggett adds a catering circus led by an Elvis impersonator and a free meal. Determinedly "in-caricature", the actors worked incredibly hard, drawing on devised and richly detailed back-histories, mingling and flirting with the crowd. Their gross overacting didn't matter much (even at real weddings no one seems able to resist hamming it up) but their solicitousness in drawing you into their world got rather wearing. (In the toilet, I had to chat to the groom's Italian- American grandmother.) There was nowhere to hide, but as they conga'd around the room, most of the audience didn't seem to care.

This matrimonial Rocky Horror Show has a steely, smiling Disney-World insistence on the veracity of its fiction. It's the perfect party for people who fancy letting their hair down after a hard week at work, but need to be given some friends and shown how to do it.

Booking: 0171-287 4433

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