(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/1/2024; Photo: Heady … Black as Hazel with Derek Riddell as John. Photograph: Manuel Harlan.)

Dorfman theatre, London

Beth Steel’s new drama is dazzlingly performed and full of pain, joy and laughter in a deft production by Bijan Sheibani

Awedding day is fertile ground for a family drama but is also riddled with the risk of cliches: drunken flirting, face-offs between estranged siblings, awkward aunts and, of course, an 11th-hour dress crisis.

Beth Steel’s play has them all, so how is it that it seems spun in gold, the earthy humour tingling with originality, the canvas both big and small and the larger-than-life characters dazzlingly performed and bouncing to life before us in pain, joy, and laughter?

Sylvia (Sinéad Matthews), one of a trio of sisters, is getting married to Polish Marek (Marc Wootton), who is welcomed into the family fold reluctantly. In Mansfield, a former pit town which has a newly arrived eastern European population, those tensions run organically alongside the human drama. Steel’s previous plays were also set in the same deindustrialised East Midlands landscape, but more often explored the politics around its former coalminers and their families. This play brings the women blazingly to the fore.

They are all forces of nature, from Sylvia’s sisters, Maggie (Lisa McGrillis) and Hazel (Lucy Black), to their fantastically gobby aunt Carol (Lorraine Ashbourne). They are broadly drawn, but distinct enough to become real and endearing. You feel part of the wedding, investing in the characters and their emotional lives.

The fathers, uncles and love interests are all off stage at first, while these women get ready for the big day. They drink Buck’s Fizz, bitch about next door’s hot-tub (“sex pond”), and talk in vivid demotic (“I don’t know my arsehole from my fanny this morning,” says Carol). This opening scene alone is a masterclass in multi-layered conversational naturalism.

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