Review: You are cordially invited… *****

You are cordially invited…

Quaker Meeting House, v40

18.30 (ends 11 August)

***** (5 stars)

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, you are cordially invited to the reception to celebrate the wedding of Robert and Issy in the venue where the first same-sex religious marriage was held in 2015.

In one sense this is no different from many other weddings – the welcome of the guests, many of whom had travelled far to join the happy couple in Edinburgh, a city which has meant so much to them; the speeches, the embarrassing photos and anecdotes; the tears and the smiles and the toasts: but this is also a real celebration of something which was unthinkable fifty – or even fifteen – years ago. I came to help run the Quaker Meeting House in Edinburgh in 2005, and well remember leaning over the railings on Victoria Terrace to watch the ‘wedding’ party coming out of the registry office in what was one of, if not the, first same-sex civil partnerships in Edinburgh. I had no idea then that it wouldn’t be all that long before real same-sex weddings were taking place – and that I would be invited to be a part of that first religious wedding in the Meeting Room in Edinburgh Quaker Meeting House. So far we’ve come…

We are greeted by the Robert and Issy as we come to the doorway of the Meeting Room: once inside we are greeted by Robert’s mother, Betty and serenaded by two gorgeously-befrocked ladies – Betty’s sister Lil, and Kate, the grooms’ Best Person. Tom, who offered Issy a home after his parents threw him out when he came out to them, completes the ‘top table’. The show is a delight, and the audience are encouraged to play a full part in the celebrations – we are invited to take photos and to enjoy the fizzy ‘wine’ on the tables, to laugh, cheer, groan, join in the singing, dance the night away, and generally behave as wedding guests usually do. It’s a heart-warming celebration, though of course there has to be an interruption of the festive mood at one point. I don’t want to reveal too much about this, but it’s deeply moving, especially to those of us who are old enough to remember Polari and the life fully in the closet, and thought-provoking for everyone…

Hull-based Theatre on the Edge specialises in plays, all written by Barrie Wheatley, which aim both to entertain and to highlight important social issues. In this play we have excellent performances from all the cast: Jackie Rodgers’ Betty, treading the very fine line between proud motherly tears and complete dissolution into a soggy mass of tissues; Lynda Harrison as her more outspokenly blunt sister, Lil; Chris Gruca as the initially shy and retiring Tom; Liam Asplen as the slightly camp Issy, so grateful to be wanted by Robert; Jamie Wilks as the cuddly Robert who does a magnificent job of being slightly awkward and shy while also being Issy’s rock; and Gina Garton as the almost larger-than-life Kate, the boys’ Best Person, who has no qualms about turning up in a wedding frock and tiara, and belts out a tune with the best of them.

This is a glorious, life-affirming celebration of so much more than the marriage of two people. It’s a tribute to how far we’ve come, and to, in Barack Obama’s words, “the countless, often anonymous heroes” who moved things to the point where it’s now okay – though still not always easy – to be who you are and love who you want to. Long may this be so!

Mary Woodward