In the late 1920s Frederico García Lorca allegedly read about a bride who fled her wedding to elope with a former amor. Bloodshed and deaths followed when they were hunted down by their respective families. In 1932 he took this tragedy and created the simple tale of Blood Wedding. The Young Vic Theatre now presents it in a groundbreaking adaptation by Marina Carr, directed by the ever-imaginative Yaël Farber.
Gloriously gutsy and beautifully bohemian
This is no ordinary attempt to stage the play. Forget the colours, the flowers and the flamenco, the setting is now what Carr calls, ‘Andalusia County Offaly.’ With a largely Irish cast this production linguistically relocates without losing sight of its Spanish roots. The language is a device that creates a sense of mystical ambiguity, heightening the universality of Lorca’s work and the timelessness of its themes. The deep, rich, intense sounds of the Irish accent are more akin to those of Spain than England and give the words an elemental earthiness that matches Farber’s raw interpretation, while the Hibernian lilt resonates with the original poetry.
The English language makes objects inanimate but Spanish often imbues them with an implied life of their own; you don’t drop the wedding ring, the ring falls away from you. Gravity is a force to be reckoned with and events rarely occur based on rationality. Lorca’s characters know this only too well, not just as individuals but as the embodiment of social types. With one exception they don’t have names but instead role titles that alot them a place in life. There are factions and feuds that go back in time and people whose mindsets are rooted in their origins, be they the coasts, the mountains or the grasslands. History and topography go hand in hand, while old grudges and entrenched prejudices fill the air. Lorca knew political and sexual oppression intimately and while Blood Wedding is not concerned with regime change it recognises how the flames of passion can be stamped on and stifled but never put out.
This is the issue at the heart of the tragic love triangle. Gavin Drea (Leonardo), seductive, scheming and lustful, Aoife Duffin (Bride) feisty and strife-ridden and David Walmsley (Groom) sincere, gullible and frustrated, conduct a battle not just with each other but with all that surrounds them. Love is there as a driving force but in any sentimental form it is almost completely stripped away. It’s overwhelmed by the external powers of duty, expectations and conformity. Rather like a medieval morality play these receive embodiment in the other characters. Olwen Fouéré (Mother) acerbically holds court with matriarchal conservatism, never holding back her views on women, marriage and the family. She also has a keen eye on her family’s security which she sees secured in the transactional marriage. Stephan Rhodri (Father) is hard and brutally matches her pragmatism. He wants grandsons and lots of them to prosper his business, to which end he treats his daughter more like prize breeding stock than cherished offspring.
Annie Firbank (Housekeeper) engagingly chunters and trudges around the home with a delightful sense of having seen and heard it all before while Brid Brennan (Weaver) has a particularly chilling scene with her loom and along with her other passages creates a sense of gloom that portends a dire denouement. Suffering in that, Scarlett Brookes (Wife of Leonardo) displays dutiful devotion and naivety as the tragedy unfolds. Faaiz Mbelizi and Roger Jean Nsengiyumva (Woodcutters) give sympathetic understanding to the plight of the lovers but maintain the air of foreboding that haunts the forest.
What dreamily and eerily haunts the entire production is the music of Isobel Waller-Bridge which draws on styles that seem familiar yet don’t belong to one place, entirely in keeping with the grand scheme. Singing in Spanish and English, Thalissa Teixeira, herself Brazilian, floats around Susan Hilfert’s suitably stark, functional set in a pure-white, full-length evening dress sonorously carrying the action into its surreal realm. This feeling reaches its peak in the closing scene where, in contrast to the bloody events leading up to it, an ethereal air casts a sense of magical realism over all that has gone before.
Carr and Farber have created a Blood Wedding like no other. There are excesses and gambles but for the most part they pay off. They have eschewed glamour and instead have generated a gloriously gutsy and beautifully bohemian insight into this enduring work in which Lorca would have found the power of el duende.