Young Vic Theatre, London – until 2 November 2019
In 2005, after seeing Rufus Norris’ Almeida production of Blood Wedding, the Guardian’s esteemed critic, Michael Billington, echoing American critic, Harold Clurman, pondered whether Lorca’s tragedy could ever be successfully staged by English actors.
Interesting thought, that, because one of the few productions to have been able to capture something of the fiery Iberian spirit was no other than Gerry Mulgrew’s 1988 production for the Scottish company, Communicado.
Now, in a daring and radical re-imagining, Marina Carr and Yaël Farber have transported Lorca’s Andalusian tragedy to a deeply Celtic, Irish setting. Andalusia County Offaly heads the programme note and the mixture of cultures merges immediately on entering the Young Vic in Susan Hilferty’s corrida set auditorium with accents, headed by the extraordinary Olwen Fouéré setting us squarely in Hibernia.
Before us over the next 110 minutes flows a tale as bound in the culture of the bull-ring as it is in the peat and bog of County Offaly in which male is set against male and blood against blood in a terrible cycle of revenge and archetypal gender roles.
In a sense, Farber is returning us to the fierce passion of Greek tragedy where the history of past crimes and family rivalries repeat themselves with relentless inevitability – as indeed they do too in the Irish playwright, J M Synge whom Lorca much admired and was influenced by.
But Farber and Carr have also taken great liberties with Lorca’s text cutting and omitting characters – in particular the mother-in-law and village girls – who in the original add a sense of these dramas being played out against a backdrop of quite intense village norms and conventions where bearing children and land dominate.
Lorca’s great tragedies are deeply embedded in rural communities and ones dominated in his day by Catholicism. It was also one, which with his touring company, La Barraca highlighted the then regarded as a working class art form of which flamenco with its roots in Gypsy and Jewish cultures alongside Arab and Moorish influences.
Farber plays huge attention to both, conjuring the stultifying, almost primeval gender roles consigned to male and female in the Spanish culture and incorporating a host of mournful melancholic flamenco and folk songs – by Isobel Waller-Bridge – clearly drawn from a variety of Andalusian musical roots and sung with great, throaty beauty by the androgynous, white suited Thalissa Teixeira.
© Marc Brenner, Thalissa Teixeira as androgynous singer/Moon/commentator…
But given their cuts and choices, Carr and Farber’s approach brings the spotlight even more heavily to bear on the two sparring families – the one led by Fouéré’s unforgiving mother who has already lost a husband and son to the gypsy-bloodied Felix family; the other by the Bride-to-be and her family.
One could argue with Farber’s omissions; but there’s no arguing against the sculptural, physicality and beauty she brings to this Blood Wedding – nowhere more so than in the rearing, wild approximation of horse and rider in Gavin Drea’s Leonardo, the cousin who once courted the Bride, was rejected by her father because of his lack of wealth, but nonetheless believes her to be tied to him forever.
Holding on to a single rope and circuiting the `bullring’, hair flying in the wind Drea’s is a riveting conjuration of the passion and fury of the fateful, `possessed’ lover.
Blood Wedding, though, has its own switch-back temperament with a final act that breaks with the previous realism to introduce symbolic figures of the Moon and Death as if the fate of Leonardo and the Bride are already foretold.
© Marc Brenner, David Walmsley as the Groom being confronted by Brid Brennan’s figure of Death…
Never easy to stage, Farber overcomes this with a smiling, spinning witch of a Death figure played with a magnificent glint of the eye by the ever watchable, Bríd Brennan, also doubling as a neighbour.
It brings the action of this strange, disturbing play full circle, accompanied by two sombre woodcutters who throughout have acted as silent witnesses.
In the end, this full blooded Blood Wedding is not so much about desire and the pull of an attraction that cannot be denied so much as pre-determination and cycles of violence.
Rather than the Bride’s admission of Leonardo’s hypnotic sexual attraction being the main driver, this production emphasises instead the fated machismo between two males and the cycle of hatred that demands a blood sacrifice equally from the female. For it is Aoife Duffin as the Bride whose lifeless body we see hanging, still dressed in her wedding gown, as the final image.
A definitive production for many years to come, perhaps Clurman, Billington et al are right. The English really can’t do Lorca justice. Leave it to the Celts!
By Federico García Lorca
In a new version by Marina Carr
Weaver: Bríd Brennan
Wife of Leonardo: Scarlett Brookes
Leonardo: Gavin Drea
Bride: Aoífe Duffin
Housekeeper: Annie Firbank
Mother: Olwen Fouéré
Woodcutter 2: Faaiz Mbelizi
Woodcutter 1: Roger Jean Nsengiyumva
Father: Steffan Rhodri
Moon: Thalissa Teixeira
Groom: David Walmsley
Director: Yaël Farber
Designer: Susan Hilferty
Lighting Designer: Natasha Chivers
Sound Designer: Emma Laxton
Composer : Isobel Waller-Bridge
Movement Director: Imogen Knight
Casting Director: Julia Horan CDG
Fight Director: Kate Waters
Voice and Dialect Coach: Rebecca Gausnell, Brendan Gunn
Jerwood Assistant Directors: Monique Touko and Emily Ling Williams
First perf of this production of Blood Wedding at the Young Vic Theatre, London, Sept 19, 2019. Runs to Nov 2, 2019.