15 Oct ‘My Big Fat Cowpat Wedding’ Review
Last week we had the second Black Country instalment of ‘My Big Fat Cowpat Wedding’ when the tour found its way to the Brasshouse Community Centre in Smethwick. Once again the cast performed to a packed and eager audience. Read a review of the show and interview with Aimee Berwick (Clare) below by Ciera Littleford who watched the show at the Brasshouse.
‘My Big Fat Cowpat Wedding’ is a comedy drama with a difference. Directed by Janet Steel and Steve Johnstone, the play incorporates, multi-role playing, striking costumes and convincing props to create an enigmatic and charming production. Using stereotypes to beat stereotypes.
The play combats difficulties such as ethnic/faith differences, rivalry between city- and country-folk, and even gender role issues. At first, it seems that the city/country divide is going to be used as a euphemism for the gulf between cultures, but it soon becomes evident that it’s treated as a serious issue alongside it, without overwhelming the audience. It really is an intriguing and clever mix.
The story centres on Clare, the free-spirited daughter of Farmer Jack, and Arjun, the laid-back son of wealthy city-dweller Shruti. However, actors Aaron Virdee (Arjun), Aimee Berwick (Clare), Sheena Patel (Shruti) and Graeme Rose (Jack) have a lot more on their plate than just one character each. Virdee tackles various family members – with varying degrees of intoxication – as does Berwick, Patel and Rose. Each actor gives a genuinely convincing performance of each character, which made this play wholly watchable, at the very least.
Prospective audiences are invited to ‘Clare and Arjun’s Wedding’, the play is set up as a wedding reception in which the audience are seated as guests, party food and all. One of the highlights of the night was the stunning set and costume design – both were tremendously convincing, and made the play a visual delight as well as a mentally stimulating one!
The partnership of Black Country Touring, Kali Theatre & Arts Alive worked very well in deciding the perfect venues for the production; the dates include an equal mix between country and city locations and the intimacy of such small settings like village halls enhance the already rich reality of the play. The particular performance I attended was at Brasshouse Community Centre, Smethwick, a city orientated location. It brings the local youth together in the community which was a fitting bit of background for this venue, as the characters in ‘…Cowpat Wedding’, despite having their differences, ultimately try and bring their very contrasting families together.
The actors and writers successfully consider and explore the differences between country and city life by using truths – famers and the love for their cows, the city-folk and their disgust for the great outdoors, and country-folk’s reluctance to let go of tradition. A motif is used for this expertly – Aunt Marigold, played by Graeme Rose – gifts Clare with a family heirloom with multitudes of sentimentality and wealth.
Another problem explored is the somewhat unspoken discomfort experienced at the wedding of an interracial couple. No one is too dismayed by this, but there is a slight… wariness, as if each family is worried about what the other might think. Even the restrictions of gender roles is briefly touched upon. Jack discourages Clare from a farmers’ life, and she responds with – ‘would you say that if I was your son?’ which was a particularly resounding message in this modern day. The delivery by Berwick and Rose’s reaction complemented this message greatly, too.
Ultimately, Kali Theatre, Black Country Touring and Arts Alive have come together with some truly talented actors and writers to create a truly inimitable, innovative and distinctive work of art that can be shared will all kinds of audiences.
I also had an interview with Aimee Berwick, who plays Clare, amongst others, which can be ready below.
CIERA: So – are you on a bit of a comedown now?
AIMEE: I suppose, we kind of had a day off yesterday, so, today’s been like getting back into it again. Yeah when we’ve finished the show it’s quite an intense hour and a half, and we have to get out after… we have to take all the set and the props and the costumes away and everything. It kind of feels ongoing, you get the hour and a half of the show which is quite intense.
C: And you’ve done a few shows now haven’t you, are you enjoying it?
A: Yeah, we’ve done dates in Wolverhampton and then we went to Wales as well. We went to Cardigan in Wales, and we’ve been to Shropshire. So it’s been fantastic, and we’re going back to Shropshire this weekend as well – to Priest Weston and a few other places; it’s very nice to take it into village halls, into communities. One particular community were more or less all farmers. So yeah, it was very very small, it was a hamlet rather than a village, but yeah I think they really appreciated it, really appreciated something relevant.
C: So [the audience] relate well to it?
A: I think so yeah, I think it captures the imagination of people in say, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, or even in the village somewhere. So you’ve got a bit of something for everyone in that respect.
C: Even when you go to Wales, and it’s set in the Midlands?
A: Yeah! Because, when we go to Wales, and I can only speak of the venues we’ve been to so far, or the venue we’ve been to, but it was very much out in the sticks. We went through a LOT of countryside to get there (laughs) so I think they related to the fact that there’s a big difference when people come in from the town.
C: There’s a bit for everyone in this play, then?
A: Yeah, definitely.
C: And what got you into acting?
What got me into… Ooh good question actually, I did acting at school, and at youth theatre, and then I went to drama school after that. And I carried on. And it was never – it was acting and singing – so there was never really anything else for me, really.
C: Oh really, so it’s always been your… passion.
A: Yes, yes absolutely yeah.
C: Oh, you can tell, when you’re all on stage, that you love it.
A: Oh, thank you.
C: Do you think the topic of ‘My Big Fat Cowpat Wedding’ is still taboo? These days.
A: The topic in terms of…
C: The two sort of rivalries really. Not just between ‘city’ and ‘country’-
A: Like ethnicity as well?
A: I think it’s something that often, people don’t talk about so much. I think because we’re a very multicultural society, there’s an assumption that everyone should be okay with everything – well not everyone’s been exposed to the same things as everyone else, if you see what I mean so, a group of people who aren’t as exposed to people from the town or people from a different ethnicity… I think pieces like this are really important, because it speaks to people. I don’t think it’s taboo but I think it’s just something we all need to talk about and share together ‘cos it’s a part of all of our heritage.
C: What did you think when you first read the script?
A: I thought it was very funny. There were a lot of characters, so I thought, how am I gonna do all these characters and make each one really different. I was very excited really, so I read through and I was like, I just wanted to grasp all those different parts and… and do a good audition!! So I could get the job, really.
C: So do you think it’s difficult to play multiple roles, or do have some sort of method that makes it easier?
A: We did a lot of stuff in rehearsal about the physicality and changing the characters physically so that we didn’t just do a stereotype, or… although the characters I suppose could be seen as quite… like, stereotypical, in some respects, like Tom and Dom or Nina and Rina.
C: But in a way, that challenges those stereotypes doesn’t it?
A: Absolutely , ‘cos we did a lot of work on the back stories of them and why they’re saying what they’re saying, and the physicality of them, which really sort of ingrained… they feel common enough, like a common ground for everyone, so everyone can grasp what’s going on, but they still surprise people which is really nice.
C: And has each night been different? Or does it run like clockwork?
A: No, totally different, totally different.
A: If like you get a farming community they’ll find other things funny… we were in Wolverhampton and obviously today in Smethwick as well, so it really changes depending on what the audience relate to.
C: Yeah. And finally, is there anything you’d like to tell people who are coming to future shows?
A: Wear your wellies! (laughs)
C: Good answer!