Blood Wedding

Federico Garcìa Lorca in a new version by Tanya Ronder
Almeida Theatre

Gael Garcia Bernal and Thekla Reuten

If you have seen any recent South American cult movie, you will recognise Gael Garcìa Bernal. The Mexican heartthrob has starred in Y Tu Mama Tambien, Amores Perros and most recently as Ché Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries. Indeed, if you are in thrall to swarthy Latin men, you have probably dreamt of him.

His London stage debut as Leonardo in Blood Wedding is therefore much anticipated and the first question is whether his English will let him down? The answer is no and for good reason. This international cast features actors from Africa, Iceland, the Netherlands, Ireland, Portugal, different regions and cultures of the United Kingdom and of course Spain amongst others. It has been selected, in part for the variety of their accents and the unusual impression that this gives.

The second question is whether there is any more to this production than one sexy Latino. With Rufus Norris directing a new version of the play by Tanya Ronder, we have the team that had such a success with Lope de Vega's Peribanez at the Young Vic, and therefore that was never likely to be the case.

As with his superlative Festen, Norris and designer Katrina Lindsay have stripped Blood Wedding, which is based on a true story, to bare, minimalist bones. The set consists of little more than a few lacy materials hanging over bare space but is enhanced by liberal use of often beautiful silhouettes, for example for the wedding celebrations. At the start, with the unsettling figure of Death represented by a faceless, reversed Daniel Cerqueira, the look is very much René Magritte.

There is also haunting folk music, written by Orlando Gough and delivered onstage by the actors using both musical instruments and their voices.

Miss Ronder's translation is poetic and dreamlike, as the tragedy of what should have been the happiest day of a boy and girl's life unfolds.

The innocent Groom, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, is delighted to have secured his stunning Bride, Thekla Reuten. His mother, well played by Rosaleen Linehan, whose life is devoted to suffering and mourning the loss of a husband and first son, both knife victims, is more sceptical. Indeed, she will only attain peace when the last man in the family is in the ground and her fearful waiting for the worst is over.

There are rumours abroad already, that the bride-to-be has a mysterious, horse-borne, nocturnal visitor. It is no coincidence that Lyndsey Marshal's pregnant Wife is berating her too-attractive husband, the smouldering Bernal as Leonardo, for his dangerous horse-riding and inattentiveness to her needs.

It is a sad fact in drama, if not in life, that when a pretty lady has to choose between men epitomising decency and danger, the latter will always win. The consequences of such a choice are not always those of the typical fairytale.

It is therefore inevitable that passions boil over during the wedding celebrations and an elopement follows, while the groom is symbolically tied up during a traditional wedding ritual.

From there, the couple is hunted down with help from quirky Death and a naked glittering Moon (Assly Zandry), suspended from a trapeze for long periods. The eventual paired deaths of husband and lover are made more poignant when the Bride subsequently announces that she is still a virgin

This new version of Lorca's 1932 drama has a tremendous atmospheric feel to it and its 100 minutes fly by. It owes much to the director's vision brought to impressive life by the well-drilled multinational cast using a combination of music, song and silhouette.

For those who are unfamiliar with the play, some of the characters initially lack definition, although it cannot be easy to portray Death or the Moon, if you are to avoid over-used clichés.

Overall though, this is another gripping Norris success, which could follow Festen and Eve Best's Hedda Gabler from The Almeida into the West End.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher