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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Blood Wedding
by Lizzie Loveridge

My child, my son, my sunflower. Mirror of the earth. Upon your chest a cross of bitter oleander.
---- Mother
Blood Wedding
Gael Garcia Bernal as Leonardo
(Photo: Keith Pattison)
Rufus Norris is not the kind of director to sit back on his laurels. After his very successful production of Festen for the Almeida which ran for near a year after transferring to the West End, he tackles a difficult, poetic and highly symbolic work by Federico Garcia Lorca. Blood Wedding (1932) is the Macbeth of Lorca's plays, not produced very often and when it is, almost always unsatisfactorily. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't try.

The main problem lies in how to translate Blood Wedding from the Spanish. This new version by Tanya Ronder is taken from a literal translation by Simon Scardifield. It was written as poetry with imagery that increases its problematic nature. Lorca is said to have based it on a real life incident. He was fascinated by the conflict between fulfilling societal responsibility and following the desire of one's heart.

Blood Wedding is the story of a girl (Thekla Reuten) who on her wedding day, having chosen her groom, almost inexplicably, rides off with Leonardo, a married man played by the young and acclaimed Mexican actor, Gael Garcia Bernal. The casualties are all around. Both Leonardo and the bridegroom (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) die in a knife fight leaving the "contested over" bride covered in blood. Leonardo's pregnant wife (Lyndsay Marshall) is shamed by her husband's behaviour and advised by her mother to stay indoors, "You can cry and grow old in your own home. It's not much of a life but it's better than death".

The groom's mother (Rosaleen Lineham) is left childless, all her men, her husband and two sons, having been killed by a knife blade. Two other figures dominate the play, the figure of Death (Daniel Cerqueira) who stalks every change of scene and in latter scenes, the obscure personification of the Moon (Assly Zandry). The characters in Blood Wedding appear to be influenced by the earth, blood, sex, water, infertility and fertility and the moon and of course the inevitability of Death.

An initial scene shows the figure of a enigmatic man (Daniel Cerqueira), mysteriously wearing his suit and shirt back to front, and a black wig covering his face so that we are confused about his identity and are sure he is laughing at us. The deliberate, exaggerated movement of the figure of Death reminded me of the introduction to one of Robert Wilson' plays.

The play soon moves in a more conventional way as mother and son discuss his choice of bride and the presents he will take to her, the embroidered stockings, the earrings for the bride, the two new suits he must buy. She chooses to ignore gossip about the motherless bride linking her to Leonardo, a handsome young married man. Mother and son set out on the long journey to the bride's house where they hear about the bride's virtues, including rising at three to bake bread.

Scenes set in Leonardo's house show how unhappily married he is but the impression we get is that what upsets him is the lack of freedom rather than just that he is married to the wrong woman. Gael Garcia Bernal with his soulful eyes and boyish good looks is evocative of lost youth, his life before the responsibility of a wife and children. His wife is obviously out of her depth. "He doesn't like staying put," she says "If he could grow wings, he'd fly."

Rufus Norris uses a blood red set -- hanging curtains changing colour with the mood -- and often uses a white curtain on which to play out a scene in shadows that visually get larger and smaller. All of the wedding celebration is shown in this way, dancers seen in shape only with sound of music and voices. It is like watching a film onstage. Sometimes the backdrop is a lace tablecloth, lit from behind, as the bride learns from her maid (Adjoa Andoh) what it is to wake in bed next to a man. I was blown away by the sensuous language, the subtle sexuality of the maid's perception. Hanging horseshoes ring and clink together like wind chimes in the breeze.

Norris has assembled a cast from all over Europe with the resulting assortment of accents but this really didn't interfere with the Spanish setting. Where the play fell down for me was with the figure of the moon. A young woman, naked apart from some body glitter is suspended on a rope from a trapeze and hauled up and down from a pit in the stage to speak her part. I didn't understand the symbolism or the force of nature she represented and the image seemed overstated, awkward. More clowning from the figure of Death with reversing his clothes perturbed rather than enthralled me. I was shocked by the bodies of the young men hauled up on ropes and confused by the bride's insistence that she was still a virgin. Was she kidnapped? Did she go willingly? What possible outcome could she have envisaged other than a revenge killing after the affront to her groom's honour?

Rufus Norris's production poses more questions than it answers. What is certain, however, is that his innovative and dynamic directorial ideas put him top of any shortlist of candidates for the next Artistic Director post to fall vacant.

Blood Wedding
Written by Federico Garcia Lorca
In a new version by Tanya Ronder
Directed by Rufus Norris

Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal
With: Rosaleen Linehan, Björn Hylnur Haraldsson, Maria de Lima, Sue Roderick, Lyndsey Marshal, Jess Murphy, Adjoa Andoh, Paul Bhattacharjee, Thekla Reuten, Jason Baughan, Assly Zandry, Daniel Cerqueira
Design: Katrina Lindsay
Lighting: Tim Mitchell
Sound: Paul Arditti and Carolyn Downing
Running time: One hour 40 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking to 18th June 2005
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 12th May performance at the Almeida, Upper Street, London N1 (Tube: Angel, Islington)
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