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BLOOD WEDDING – Waterloo East, London.

BLOOD WEDDINGIn 1928, in Nijar in the Spanish province of Almeria, Francisco Montes Canada was shot dead after fleeing a wedding with the prospective bride, his cousin Francisca. The murder was carried out by the groom’s brother and this grisly matrimonial tragedy was duly reported in the Heraldo de Madrid newspaper. It was spotted by Federico García Lorca and formed the basis of his celebrated play, combining social commentary with epic drama and vivid, soaring lyrics. Unfortunately, an uneven production at the Waterloo East struggles to do the same.

In defence of the cast, Blood Wedding is not without its challenges. It perversely buries the natural climax in abstraction (here rendered almost incomprehensible), voices ideas and emotions that might sit more comfortably in the subtext and gives several characters a heavy expositional load. Of course, Lorca is not the only playwright to fast-track love affairs, reel off  reams of family history and hammer home key themes. However, when actors can combine convincing emotion with an understanding of his poetic intent the effect is indisputably powerful.

The supporting cast gets closer to this goal than the leads. Charismatic Carolina Main is a real standout as the bride’s maid and a member of the portentous (Greek) chorus, completely at ease with Gwynne Edwards’ sometimes mannered translation. Though the supporting characters are namless, and each actor plays several roles, Abigail Unwin-Smith offers a subtly wretched performance as Wife and a brave physical performance as Death. Jennifer Shakesby impresses with fluid delivery and distinct characterisation and Catherine Nicole and Jo Mifsud lend effective dramatic and musical support.

The music is the highlight of Zoé Ford’s slightly sparse direction. Authentic songs and the occasional barefoot dance shift the tone of the piece, enriching action and underscoring themes, as well as helping to establish a strong sense of place. There are moments when this recalls Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, a sun-kissed romantic utopia starkly juxtaposed with unthinkable horror.

However, this play needs its central characters to make that horror feel both tragically inevitable and equally unthinkable. Maya Thomas and Giorgio Spiegelfeld as the Bride and her lover Leonardo (Lorca’s fictional versions of Francisco and Francisca) never convince as two people drawn inexorably to one another, whatever the cost. The strength of the familial blood feud should be matched by the strength of their churning passion, but neither convey a complex hinterland, nor a raging internal conflict, that would justify their actions.

Scarlet Sweeney as the Mother fares slightly better, particularly in the meatier Act III, but she comes across not as a proud woman consumed with barely suppressed grief and anger but more subdued, and we lose some of Lorca’s language in her muted speech. When Leonardo proclaims that burying passion is the worst punishment we can heap upon ourselves, this feels like an abstract idea rather than a sentiment felt by the principal characters.

The production does convey some of the major themes nicely, from the running thread of natural imagery to the generational conflict, but lacks a dynamic interpretation of the work. There are aspects of this production that are highly relevant for a contemporary audience, such as the woman’s role in society and how long it can take for progress to be fully accepted. Lorca was writing at a time when debate raged regarding women’s rights, and the fact that legal changes were afoot did not always filter down to rural communities in this religious country.

The Bride’s reluctance to accept the role thrust upon her, to become a wife safely contained within high walls, has more resonance when she is taken as a symbol of female emancipation. It would be interesting to explore an understanding of Lorca’s social context, or indeed our own, in this somewhat workman-like version of a rich play.

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Reviewed 15/06/13/

By Marianka Swain

12th June – 7th July 2013
Waterloo East Theatre, London, SE1.

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