Wedding Band, Lyric Hammersmith, 2024
Photo: Mark Senior
  • Theatre, Drama
  • Lyric Hammersmith, Hammersmith
  • Recommended

Review

Wedding Band: A Love Hate Story in Black and White

4 out of 5 stars

Finally debuting on the London stage in 2024, Alice Childress’s 1962 drama about forbidden love in the American South was worth the wait

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Time Out says

Love is set up to fail in Alice Childress’s 1962 classic play ‘Wedding Band’. It’s set in South Carolina, 1918 during the Spanish Flu pandemic. Black seamstress Julia and white baker Herman are celebrating ten years of being together. They know each other inside out: he has to ask her what size socks he wears and where to buy his shirts. They’ve shared countless wedding cakes over the years. But, they are stuck in limbo – in this state interracial marriage is against the law.

And so, in Monique Touko’s production their relationship plays out across a battlefield. Julia has moved into a new home in a set of connecting rental houses. Here, she is surrounded by a sisterhood of Black women. Children scurry past yodelling; the women do their best to offer each other neighbourly favours and spend their evenings gossiping away. And yet, even in this safe haven, when Julia reveals she has a white partner, the news sends acidic ripples through the community.  

Herman’s entrance disrupts the peace even further: he is an outsider that comes crashing in. On a set made up of wire fences, designed by Paul Wills, the couple are always one wrong step away from danger. Their scenes together are fuelled by passion but are back lit by a menacing red light. Does it indicate their love? Or the hell that is just around the corner?

You’re never quite sure as the couple swerve from deep devotion to one another to heated conflict between each scene. Herman – played tenderly by David Walmsley – avoids all conversation about white violence. Julia – a superb and scene-stealing Deborah Ayorinde – is desperate for him to realise the pain he’s caused. Together, they act like magnets: on one side organically connected, on the other, on opposing fields.

The play was ahead of its time in 1962, and didn’t receive a New York premiere until a decade later. This is its first major production in London. But, Childress’s writing burns with contemporary flair and rage. Love is fighting against hate, but at times it seems like a futile conflict.

The casual racism stings with each hit. Herman’s sister Annabel (played sourly by Poppy Gilbert) jitters and wipes her hands in disgust as she enters Julia’s home. Herman’s bid to defend Julia by saying she’s ‘not like the others’ flies through the air like a dagger.

Among all the pain, there are some very funny scenes too. And, there is a final, gorgeous picture of redemption that makes the whole stage vibrate. At times, it is hard to believe this play was so many written years ago: Touko has launched it into the present, giving her actors the space to make their characters overflowing, wholes. What a way to give this play its first London entrance. 

Details

Address
Lyric Hammersmith
Lyric Square, King St
London
W6 0QL
Transport:
Tube: Hammersmith
Price:
£15-£44. Runs 2hr 40min

Dates and times

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