Left – Sophie Ross. Cover – Leah Purcell. Photos – Brett Boardman
Spoiler alert: To anyone wishing to see this production without any foreknowledge of its theatrical twists and turns should probably be warned, this isn’t the review for you. Not so much in terms of the plot, mind you – that is fairly straightforward, and if you are familiar with Lorca’s classic then there will probably be no surprises here in terms of the actual narrative.
What is a surprise, and a rather gobsmacking one at that, is the bold stylistic change between the first and second acts. Actually, “stylistic change” doesn’t quite cover it… it is almost like watching two different plays. The first half is a minimalistically staged and rather histrionic melodrama, filled with withering stares, explosions of emotion and a rather striking gestural repertoire that seems designed to further evoke the play’s Spanish milieu with more of an emphasis on theatricality than verisimilitude.
However, if you found yourself thinking that director Iain Sinclair was making an interesting choice in Act One by gearing the performances to be outside the realm of strict naturalism… then Act Two would make what had come before look like documentary realism by comparison.
With a completely re-set stage covered in a thick layer of dry leaves and populated by actors now dressed in elaborate masked puppet-costumes that resemble demonic forest spirits, the entire schema of the production has transformed into some kind of gothic fairytale that would give Hieronymus Bosch the heebie-jeebies. As the skull-faced and rose-wreathed spirit of Death converses with the crowned and blood-soaked young girl representing the vengeful Moon, you might be forgiven for wondering if someone spiked your drink at interval with psychotropic drugs.
However, once the shock of this rather jarring change of style from a slightly heightened rural domestic melodrama to full-blown metaphysical phantasmagoria, it does start to make a bit more sense. This is all in Lorca’s play after all, and these elements have not been imposed on the text. There is something almost Shakespearian about the inclusion of these anthropomorphic personifications in the latter part of the story, as though the gods or faerie folk are commenting, chorus-like, on the fates of mortals and the deeper iconic significance of their actions, while manipulating them to satisfy their own elemental demands for mankind’s blood and sacrifice.
As stated, the primary story is after all rather simple, the tale of a marriage hoped to put aside the differences of two warring families, of a bride with a dark yearning for another man who she has forsworn, and of a wedding dramatically disrupted as the needs of passion overpower the obligations of love. It is only when all this comes to a head and violent retribution is the inevitable result that the play takes a turn for the somewhat supernatural, and these godlike characters put this drama into a more timeless context of the human experience.
That said, is the play truly timeless? Yes and no. While its themes of lust, grief, betrayal and revenge are all human universals, its plot is predicated on the ironclad sexual morality of a deeply religious culture whereby women are treated as chattel passed between father and husband, and violations of fidelity and virginity are dishonours sufficient to justify murder. Most of us, here in the privileged Western world at least, are notionally free of such concerns and may see this rural play set in the early 20th Century as depicting antiquated social mores. Yet they are not only still ingrained in much of our cultural heritage but remain just below the surface of many of our seemingly enlightened attitudes towards gender politics, property and the sanctity of marriage. Moreover, these kind of social restrictions are still very much a reality in many parts of the world.
Sinclair as both translator and director has created quite an engrossing world for us, crucially assisted by set and costume designers Rufus Didwiszus and Luke Ede. There is something almost operatic about the production, encompassing both the stripped-down modern style in the first part and the almost baroque extremes in the second half. With many interludes of live music and Brechtian touches of the cast sitting visibly in the wings, it is a multifaceted and immersive theatrical experience to be sure.
While some might find the drastic change of aesthetics between the two acts to be a touch jarring, it is perhaps best seen as Sinclair’s extrapolation of the dramatic touches at the play’s beginning. These come to fruition with Lorca’s introduction of Death and the Moon in the latter part, embracing rather than downplaying his turn for the mythological. Had Act One been presented with a similarly outrageous production design it would have distracted from or even lampooned the raw human drama at a point where the audience is still meeting and investing in the characters, yet conversely choosing to present the later otherworldly aspects in a more mundane manner could well have undercut their very nature.
The large cast is uniformly strong, with special mentions going to the precocious Holly Fraser as both “the girl” and the gore-soaked Moon, Sophie Ross as the tightly-wound conflicted Bride, the versatile Yalin Ozucelik once again defying any typecasting as the smoldering Leonardo, the always delightful Lynette Curran and, of course, the star of the show, Leah Purcell as the proud, bereaved Mother doubling rather appropriately as Death herself.
Blood Wedding is a complex, rewarding production of a captivating play, one that could easily be mishandled in any number of ways. While Sinclair’s stylistic flourishes may leave some befuddled, for most it should prove to be a memorable and moving experience.
Sydney Theatre Company presents
by Federico Garcia Lorca | translation by Iain Sinclair
Director Iain Sinclair
Venue: Wharf 1, Sydney Theatre Company
Dates: 5 August – 11 September, 2011
Tickets: $30 - $77 (Transaction fees may apply)
Bookings: 9250 1777 | sydneytheatre.com.au