Edinburgh Fringe 2018
On the eve of Mona and Geoff’s wedding, they begin to get cold feet about the scale of the commitment, not helped by some other couples sharing their experiences of what marriage is really like over the long term. As a guest at the wedding you can’t help but feel emotionally involved in this intimate little gem of a play.
Mona and Geoff are getting married and the audience – or congregation – is invited to celebrate with them. You have to get into the spirit of things, put on the fascinator that is offered to you and support them as they get ready for the big day. Sitting around three sides of the room you are in a community centre, where Geoff works and Mona pops in from her job as a lollipop lady. They are both, it’s fair to say, a little eccentric and have some adjustments to make after finding love later in life.
This is used as a mechanism to look at marriage more generally. Their fledging relationship is seen in contrast to three other couples around them. Preparations are overseen by Marina, a woman who shows love mainly through the medium of nagging. No second thoughts are allowed about going through with the ceremony, because, as she says, she has made canapes.
Her husband, Neil, bears the brunt of her tongue, although he can give as good as he gets. He is a musician who has a bad habit of coming home in the wee small hours a bit the worse for wear. Meanwhile, Marina’s sister, Sarah, who is meant to be acting as celebrant, is more worried about her own marriage and whether her husband, Mark, might be seeing someone else. And heard but never seen, except represented by a coat and a dog jacket, are an elderly couple, Len and Jean, who, it seems, may not have much time left together.
The third in a trilogy of devised plays about ordinary people and their relationships, Handfast looks beyond the wedding to what it means to be married, to stay together over a lifetime and to put up with each other’s annoying habits when the first flush of love has worn off. The couples argue, appealing to the audience in little asides, and Neil nearly puts Geoff off altogether by being too honest. It is very real and relatable – all around the room I could see knowing looks being exchanged between couples in the audience.
While the set is fairly basic, just a draped sheet backdrop, some patterned vinyl flooring, a few painted Ikea stools and tables, and some fairy lights, it just worked in this particular room because it is already highly decorated with photography – and bearing in mind that it was meant to a community hall in the play – but if the show goes on to another, plainer venue, this may not be enough.
There are some really nice touches, though: the fascinators that are handed round at the beginning, the show programme made to look like an order of service, the use of pre-recorded voices and snippets of poetry, the live music and the use of props to represent Len walking his dog. Of course, with it being in the round, sometimes you can’t see everything, but just like a real wedding you can shuffle around in your seat a bit when you need to.
But the real strength of this piece the characters. You can’t help but feel invested in the lives of these flawed but real people, who are convincingly portrayed by the cast in this intimate setting. Handfast is a joyous celebration of relationships in all their glorious messiness. You’ll laugh and cry like it’s a real wedding.