Federico Garcia Lorca
Lorca found his inspiration for Blood Wedding in newspaper reports of similar events so he may well have approved of the way director Poppy Burton-Morgan has adapted his play, reflecting current reports of knife-crime by updating it to a contemporary setting with Caribbean immigrant families rather than Andalusian farmers and motorbikes instead of horses.
It is a comparatively free adaptation, but she has stayed with the original plotting - this is still a family blood-feud, not a gang war, in which a young man whose mother nurtures hatred for those who, years before, killed his father and his brother. Now, this second son gets married but his bride had a previous boy-friend, now married, and at the wedding reception she runs off with him.
That is the first two acts of Lorca's play, which this production reshapes by putting the opening of the second act, with the bride getting ready on the morning of the wedding, at the beginning and then going into flash-back so that the whole action can be contained on the wedding day with the audience becoming guests at the wedding.
Asked to say whether bride or groom's side, you are warmly welcomed, offered a drink and seated informally leaving a roughly traverse stage for the actors and are then briefly rehearsed in a song (Lorca's) to welcome the bride before the action starts. Scenes located at different tables around the space present private episodes at different households before you join in seeing the bride off to church. You have to imagine the actual ceremony but take part in the reception, with a prize for the best dancer.
Sophie Benjamin and Trevor Michael Georges do a fine job of involving and enthusing the audience but the participation breaks up the drama which becomes less concentrated.
For the final act, where Lorca introduces personifications of the Moon and Death - challenging to make work without becoming consciously 'poetic' - Burton-Morgan goes for a deliberately unrealistic style. Paradoxically, Lorca's woodcutters are replaced by a group of road workers who, in yellow jackets laying road cones, would seem very naturalistic except that one of them is rolling around on the tarmac in a very unlikely manner. Then one lays a trail of chalk dust down the road and another sweeps gaps it: a very stylised way of 'painting' a broken white line! This may be intended to make the leap to a personified moon more acceptable but to me it was illogical and muddled - and totally unnecessary. The moon is effectively presented with an emphasis on theatricality - but he has to be heard over the whole length of a very wide traverse and here swings between being too loud and so quiet as to be almost inaudible which makes it difficult to understand his speeches.
I have yet to see a production of this play that totally solves its problems and this certainly doesn't but it does have much to offer. There is a very strong performance from Naomi Wirthner as the bridegroom's mother, especially forceful in her final grief. Sophie Benjamin, so outgoing as the bride's sister (servant in the original) is refreshingly different as a neighbour, Marion Day as a passionate Leonardo, Tai Lawrence suddenly seeing his destiny as the bridegroom and a marvellously theatrical moment (borne out of doubling) when the garments she wears as death are carried forward at the end of one scene and placed over Jade Anouka as the bride, as though sealing her fate also.
As well as all doubling roles this hard working cast also play the music composed by Jessica Dannheisser, leaving the stage to discreetly take up their instruments. As well as accompanying the songs it adds much to the whole atmosphere of the production.
Until 15th August 2009
Reviewer: Howard Loxton