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Edinburgh Fringe 2011

May I Have The Pleasure…?

The Arches Present Adrian Howells

Genre: Drama




Low Down

The Arches and Adrian Howells return to this year’s fringe with a personally revealing and humorous production entitled “May I Have the Pleasure…?”. Staged in the capitals’ luxurious Point Hotel, you are assigned the role of guest at a wedding reception and it’s in this recognisable seating arrangement that Howells relates his wedding experiences. Written by Howells, the actor confesses to us his role in numerous nuptial ceremonies. He performs equipped with some genuine and excruciating home videos, a killer list of obligatory wedding songs and poignant memories.


The top floor bar of the Point Hotel Conference Centre has one of the most magnificent views of Edinburgh city. We mingle there waiting for the show to begin, listening to the Bee Gees and George Michael. We can see into the performance area where the round tables are festooned with bright balloons. A wedding cake has a starring role in the corner and we start to get slightly restless, comparable to a real wedding. Dramatically, a curtain is drawn across the window and we are invited in. A man sits alone at a top table, his shirt open and bare foot, swaying in time to the music and downing what is apparently not his first glass of wine. He leaps to his feet, and crosses the dance floor mimicking the formal walk down the aisle. A projector flickers into life and Adrian Howells, very informally, begins to talk to us through the images on the screen. This particular footage is of one of the sixty weddings he has attended in his life, and too often as the best man. The experiences slot together to make a jigsaw that portrays his life. He regales us with stories of his speeches, some successful and some horribly misjudged. The audience are invited to tell their wedding faux pas tales. Each table has a list of slow dance tunes from which they are to pick a song. Someone at the next table selects Leo Sayer’s “When I Need You”, and Howells shrieks with camp delight – he loves this song! A dance partner is politely requested to accompany him and they take to the floor. After the dance he stands very still with the partner, echoing photographic images from his childhood that we have seen earlier in the film footage.

The illustrations that Howell’s brings into discussions are droll, and we can all relate to them. However, by his own admission, his humour is immersed in his insecurity, his need to connect to other human beings, and fear of what the future holds for him as a single homosexual man. He tells of his best female friend’s wedding, and this is a real emotional wrench. Her pairing off isolates him making him feel as though he is being left behind. He stands before us pounding his chest in a brutal ritual. The Yvonne Fair song, “It Should Have Been Me”, resonates significantly and this painful memory clearly tortures him. His personal therapy sessions lead to an encounter in a public toilet, it’s grotty but you have to laugh because it’s such an unfortunate incident. And then there’s the real heartbreaker, the one that got away.
Adrian Howells has created a provocative piece. Before the performance has even begun, the seating arrangement triggers “function suite” memories for the audience and they’re all talking excitedly as they come in. There’s lots of opportunity for audience participation and he even uses flip charts to list their suggestions. When he’s dancing with a member of the audience the rest of us are left chatting and that was sometimes awkward. Some of this audience interaction wouldn’t hurt if it was pruned and it could have got out of hand but he manages to recapture our attention by establishing a simple signal that’s quite emotive. Howell’s is likeable, behaves like he’s gossiping with a friend and often laughs at his own ridiculousness, but like most clowns if you scrape the surface underneath dwells melancholy. He is uninhibited in his revelations and there are definite moments when he triggers that nervous laughter from those who laugh because they’re uncomfortable or cringing with embarrassment. This reflective chronicle of marriages allows him to scrutinise friendships, the loss of friends, and the value of love.


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