The Wedding Reception – Focus, Transformation and Chaos

-Nerine Skinner, actor, talks about focus, transformations, and preparing for chaos in a 2-hour show that includes dinner

Well what a pleasure it is to be performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in The Wedding Reception. This is definitely one of the wildest shows I have been involved in… don’t worry, that’s wildin a good, organised chaos way!

I have been in this production for about a year and a half, touring around the UK as well as performing in London. The simple truth is that every show is different. This is down to the sheer amount of improvisation required each night. It is very intense and I never know what will come up.

Focus: on the audience, on plot changes… even on the kitchen

This kind of performance demands 100% focus so we, as a team, can keep the ball in the air… This is a hard task at the best of times, let along for someone at the Fringe because the whole month is generally written off to tiredness and Fringe flu!

To add to that, we can also experience a lot of heckling from audiences (especially at the Fringe). People come to our show to celebrate – so they might be out for a hen do, a birthday, an anniversary or just a night out. A few drinks and a reason to celebrate can be a recipe for rowdiness. There will always be that one table that has had a few too many and want to shout out or hold a sing-a-long, which, honestly, can make for a great evening and be really fun, but as performers it is important to make sure that the other, more quiet tables are getting the experience they want too.

The Overwhelm can be real. Finding that balance can be difficult and it often ends up that we have a lot to keep our eyes on.

All of these factors make for quite an eventful evening and it’s up to us to think about every eventuality; both in terms of performance as well as logistics. We even arrange and call to the kitchen to prepare the food when it’s required. Forgetting could mean a very awkward 30 minutes of hungry waiting and the night could be ruined for everyone!

Since getting here to the Fringe, we have been undergoing a really exciting process as we have changed the show quite a lot.

We’ve added in a new plot twist (or two) which we think adds great depth to the story as well as layering a bit more reality for audiences to relate to. A new song has been smuggled in, a reinvention of one character, and some script tweaks to perfect the wording of some of our favourite gags.

Going into it, I honestly thought it would be kind of simple to add in a few tweaks and I assumed it would go in my brain straight away. Oh, did I soon realise that trying to unlearn parts of a familiar script and then add in moments to replace them is actually so much harder than starting with something completely fresh!

The first few shows I was really worried about accidentally reverting back to the old show. I got so much anxiety worrying about giving the wrong kitchen cues (those changed too), or saying an old line. But seeing the audience response has made it worth it. They are loving it and all those changes are now totally embedded.

Transformations: three characters and six costume changes

My personal journey in the show as an actress is interesting. Over the course of the show I play three different characters and have six (six!!!) costume changes. Getting into character has become harder since we changed the script and added an extra three costume changes for me (I used to have ‘just’ three changes). Time to think between each change is rare and all I worry about is getting into the right costume at the right time (I am secretly waiting for the day that goes wrong – I think that would be very funny actually)!

I have found a little way to keep all this chaos from affecting my performance: as soon as I am changed, I ask my character (in my head) what she wants from the scene she is about to enter and what had happened last time she was in the room (a real memory test). This completely puts me in the right place to pick the moment back up and invest as my new character (phew!)

My characters are also quite complex. I start off playing a hotel manager called Vicki. Making her a hotel manager is actually one of the recent changes: she was a waitress on her first day!  Her role is in giving out information like table numbers. This has proved to be one of my more tricky tasks as most of the time the audience members believe I am a real hotel manager so I get asked questions I can’t answer. I have even found it hard to know where to draw the line and it’s quite a stressful role – Vicki has a lot to do in a short space of time and a lot of information to explain. However, when the audience realise she is part of the production the pay-off is completely worth it!

I also have to work hard to make my characters look different. In the past I have found it hard to distinguish enough of a difference between Vicki and Stacey (the bride) – I mean, apart from the wedding dress, though I guess that helps! There is no wig to make a clear difference, or any kind of affectation that really sets them apart – even make up is tricky with the quick changes. I decided to get some glasses for Vicki, make her more suited and booted with a formal blazer. I also totally changed her vocal quality and accent to very posh English in order to differentiate her from Stacey and her Lancashire accent.

I then play Val, the drunken mother of the groom who wasn’t invited to the wedding. Her costume and wig are very easy to distinguish… let’s just put it that way. She likes short, tight fitting clothes and bless her, she doesn’t have the best fashion sense in the world! Because of that she is actually a little easier to get into role for because as soon as I am in that outfit I immediately feel a bit disorientated. Val also has a song – Don’t Rain on My Parade– towards the end of the show. This comes after a lot of shouting and audience heckling so I work very hard to preserve my voice and make sure I have enough in my reserve tank for the big moment and not to push too much! Easier said than done in the moment – that’s for sure!

Why you should see this show

The show is great fun, absolutely wild and audiences are absolutely loving it! For us performers, it completely feels like we have run a marathon at the end of it. There are only four of us in the show and we all double up as other characters. The cast are all so talented and we get on really well – which helps massively!

If you like silly, you like having fun, and fancy something different at the Fringe this year, then this is a must-see…even if it is just to see me rocking up in the wrong costume!!

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