As we get closer to the London première of The Wedding Reception, we spoke to the cast about how they created it. Here’s a very interesting behind the scenes interview that highlights the origin and main features of this brand new immersive comedy from ITI.
How did The Wedding Reception come about?
DAVE: Becky and I have been involved with ITI since 2013, working closely with artistic director Alison Pollard Mansergh to brainstorm ideas for a new immersive comedy. The intention always was to create a show that uses a similar structure to that of Faulty Towers The Dining Experience, while being a completely original piece of work that can stand on its own. The concept of basing an entire immersive show around a wedding reception just really clicked with us so it was these initial ideas that we developed.
DANIELLE: For me The Wedding Reception came about through a very last minute audition (offered the day before) that I nearly didn’t make because I was camping with no electricity or phone in the middle of nowhere. However, I am VERY happy I made it! I improvised as different guests at a wedding with Becky and Dave and tried my hardest to make Ali laugh, which luckily she did – a lot! I threw out a few (half-decent) accents to match the jealous ex-girlfriend and crazy aunt characters I brought to the wedding and then offered my take on Kate (who mostly spoke about Coronation Street and beef/vegetable hotpot). We all had a laugh and I came away from the audition really wanting to work with the people I’d met that day. That’s how it all started for me.
What was the creative process?
DAVE: Becky and I started the process of creating the show by writing detailed outlines for potential characters. It was absolutely essential to us that every character should be three-dimensional rather than flat, boring stereotypes. For me, the very best comic characters display true human emotion that we can all understand or relate to, no matter what situation you place them in. We drew ideas from real life as well as previous ideas we have had as actors, and wrote some incredibly detailed backstories for each of the characters. I really believe that it’s the small details that matter, and these backstories contain so many things that are never mentioned in the show itself. But the fact that we know these things as actors gives our characters real depth. That said, with the improvisational nature of the show and the fact that we get to interact directly with guests, you never know when some of these little details may come to light. Maybe some things are better off hidden!
DANIELLE: The creative process in the beginning involved a lot of improvisation, hot seating and putting the characters in different situations. This helped to discover the relationships and bonds that the characters had with each other, or lack thereof. We realised during this process how vital back story would be to making all the characters real and the story believable, particularly because all the characters are never in the same room together. We all needed to be on exactly the same page. It was also about coming up with material that we all found funny, luckily this wasn’t hard and we had a lot of laughs in the rehearsal room.
BEN: We ate a lot of ice creams and Haribo and drank a lot of coffee. Once our sugar levels were dangerously high, we left our pride and self-consciousness at the door and embraced our inner wally and started to play.
What was the writing process?
DANIELLE: The writing process was, to be honest, never ending. We were still tweaking and adding in/taking away up until an hour before our first performance. Of course the show is mostly improvised so our ‘script’ is more of a guide to the structure and order of events. Having said that, we did want to deliver our favourite gags just right, so we took a bit more time getting them word perfect!
BEN: We started with the nine characters we’d already loosely established – which for me was great as I could get stuck in straight away. We did some devising in the first part and worked backwards through time to see how everybody got to this point… long-running tensions and affections would affect this piece as it was important for us that there would be lots of things simmering under the surface at the reception as if something could erupt at any minute. We tried to work out, or let the characters work out what the stakes were for them, we had a few points that we were to aim for, seminal pieces if you will, as well as conflicts that we needed to include, but it was up to us to decide how to do them and what would be said and the repercussions of these events. It was how to link them all together and add pathos and make it funny/believable that was the main challenge. We had many a circular pow wow and probably 20 or more drafts. It is still evolving as we find more to add or take away, plus our audience helps write a new show each night by the things that pop out of their mouths!
DAVE: Once Dani and Ben joined us to form the cast, we set about writing the scripted elements of the show together. The four of us locked ourselves in various rooms around London to bash out ideas based on the backstories Becky and I had already written. It was amazing to see the characters we had created suddenly come to life. There is a very familiar structure to wedding receptions in this country that we all recognise, and it’s these things that we drew upon to form the foundation of the show itself. Of course, it was our job then to turn this structure into chaos and that’s what works so well with this show – it’s that feeling of never quite knowing what’s going to happen next despite being in a very familiar situation.
How did you balance ideas from four people?
DANIELLE: We had a stick and you could only speak if you were holding it. JOKING! It was really easy and I think we all felt comfortable relatively early to offer ideas. We said straight away that we wouldn’t hold back and would just put everything we liked down – it was best to have way too much stuff to start with and take it out later on, which of course we did as the show took on more shape.
BEN: There’s not really one main character and I think we all feel a fondness for each of the characters so despite the things they do, we all cared for them and treated them equally. There is no hogging of the limelight. Each of us wrote/improvised our own characters dialogue and we decided diplomatically what worked. We then worked on that particular part in detail. It was more that we had four brains working towards on the same shared ideas rather than four brains getting in each other’s way. Not to say that we didn’t have one or two disagreements about which direction to take, but there was no throwing of chairs etc, I mean something I find funny might be completely unfunny to someone else and vice-versa. Whenever we were stuck, we ran it in rehearsals and the solution would usually present itself, or we would find new problems, but Becky, Dave and Danielle are great to work with and we all get on really well and IT’S A COMEDY! So of course we were all having a laugh throughout!
DAVE: After months of visualising these characters in your head, handing them over to other actors stimulates ideas you could never have thought of earlier in the process. Ben and Dani’s input into the show has produced some brilliant moments. For example, early on we had some basic ideas involving a best man’s speech, so Ben [the best man] went away and wrote some ideas. The next day he came in with a book full of notes and performed a speech that had us all in tears of laughter. That was probably the first time I could see clearly that this show was going to really work. During the process we hit upon a number of roadblocks – things about the story and relationships between the characters that didn’t make sense or just plainly didn’t work. We placed great importance on making sure that everything happens in the show for a believable reason rather than crowbarring in ideas, and finding creative ways between the four of us to overcome these hurdles was incredibly satisfying. At its heart, The Wedding Reception is a classic farce, but we have made sure that this is a show with a real sense of pathos.
How did your characters develop during the creative process? (influences, inspirations, etc)
DANIELLE: My characters developed in different ways.
With Val I had lots of influences and would see people, mainly in real ale pubs, that I could use bits of. She is so outrageous and larger than life that I didn’t have to limit her at all. That freedom made it easy to discover her. If anything I found myself having to rein her in a tad, not too much though 🙂 With Kate it was different, as she is the more ‘normal’ of my two characters and the one I want the audience to feel that they know… after all they are at her wedding reception! For this reason Kate is very warm and endearing, with only a few diva bride moments. Kate is also my age and therefore her life isn’t too far a stretch of the imagination for me. Kate’s development came through exploring her relationship with her parents in rich detail, as it is mainly down to them that she and Will felt the need to elope. My inspiration for Kate is any bride who wants to have the perfect wedding with the man she loves. I feel as though I have the best of both worlds with my characters and have incredible fun being them all.
BEN: I think they all changed a fair bit from the beginning. My characters did. With Ricky I started out with a shell of a character then he has to go through then events of the show and do certain ‘things’ (no spoilers), but some of the time you think to yourself….’hang on, this guy is a bit of an idiot… hmmm… why is he doing that?’. So you have to give him layers and a reason why he does the things he does. That makes him redeemable, which in turn also changes the relationship Ricky has with the other characters and how they interact. And that works both ways, so all the characters inevitably go on this transformation and are quite different from the start.
DAVE: Anyone who has seen Faulty Towers The Dining Experience will know that a large percentage of the show is improvised with a lot of interaction with guests. The Wedding Reception takes a similar approach, so it’s impossible to know everything that is going to happen before each performance. It’s also rather tricky rehearsing a show designed with interactivity in mind to a room full of empty tables and chairs! In addition, there are all the variables involved in performing in vastly different venues to vastly different people. In reality though, this only makes the show even more exciting for us and the audience, as no two shows can ever be the same. Of course, we are aware of the huge global success Faulty has enjoyed over the years, so creating a brand new show that is capable of the same success has been quite a daunting task. We don’t have the luxury of existing characters that everyone already knows and loves, but the experience of a wedding reception and all the real-life highs and lows that come with it, is something I think we can all recognise. That gets people’s imaginations going before they’ve even walked through the door.
To be continued….