Theatre review: Marriage, Midsumma Festival

How does the institution of marriage affect the queer community?
Marriage. A hazy photo of five young women on a couch with balloons and a disco ball.

More than six years after the marriage equality plebiscite in Australia and the subsequent amendment to the Marriage Act 1961 in December 2017 to allow for marriage between same-sex couples, one in three same-sex couples living together in Australia are married (according to the ABS 2021 Census). But it’s between the stats that we find the human story and, in this new play by young Melbourne-based independent theatre group Unspooled Theatre Collective, we find a queer, Gen Z reflection on the institute of marriage wrapped up in a sparky one-hour ensemble play. 

The performance was set in a Flemington residential house (we entered via the back gate) and we were welcomed by Bobbie (Nikita Mohar-Williams) – the head bridesmaid for an upcoming marriage to which we have been invited. We arrived at a courtyard-style backyard leading to a kitchen/living room space, decked out with crêpe paper across the IKEA cabinetry, “LESBIHENS” written in colourful cut-out paper across the back wall and a pink feather boa and pink top hat, with “HEN” written across it, adorning a white hat stand in the corner. 

Bobby invited us to sit on one of the white plastic chairs set up inside the house, or in the courtyard, before making herself busy tidying and setting up drinks. In the current cost-of-living crisis – a residential house-as-theatre-space makes a lot of sense for young performers: reducing costs, while giving a sense of immersion in the world of the play. 

The sense of immersion was lost once the action of the play commenced, however, with a loud fight between two of the main characters – both friends of the hen – erupting from another room. Mary (Oriana Morris-Johnson) and Grace (Bambi Cheung) were exes in this friendship group who had not seen each other since their falling out some time previously. Until, that is, their mutual friend’s hens’ bash had thrust them unwillingly together again.

The action of the play occurred in this hour while the members of the group were waiting for their tardy friend to show up to her own hens’ night, and much of the discussion between the characters – the woo-girl oddball of the group Ashleigh (Eli Biernoff-Giles), the Gothy mechanic Grace, the spurned romantic Mary, the compulsive liar and devil’s advocate Kyra (Bella Crawford), the practical token hetero and head bridesmaid Bobbie, and the clueless brother-of-the-bride Mitch (Elvis Tran) – revolved around questions as to the continued relevance of the institution of marriage to queer people, and whether the institution itself is flawed and should be thrown in the bin altogether.

The discussions didn’t ever get too in depth, and it appeared that, for some of the characters at least, questioning the relevance of marriage was a proxy ideological debate between romantics and cynics – a relatively simplistic view that ignored the capitalist and patriarchal origins of the institution of marriage as a means of ensuring property was passed through (historically male) familial lines.

Read: Theatre review: Perpetual Stew, Midsumma Festival

While the young actors did a solid job of embodying their characters, and the writing included a structurally competent twist (which, without giving anything away, did again raise the spectre of capitalism and the current cost-of-living crisis), more care perhaps should have been given to allowing the audience to fall in love with those characters who turned out to be key to the story. This would have meant we were more invested – and it would have felt more believable – when the twist came.

Unspooled Theatre Collective
The Terrace

Marriage was performed at Midsumma Festival on 30 January – 3 February 2024.

Kate Mulqueen is an actor, writer, musician and theatre-maker based in Naarm (Melbourne). Instagram: @picklingspirits Facebook: @katemulq Twitter: @katemulqueen