By Ellen Olley
Wrong Tree’s Blood Wedding is an assured and slick reimagining that showcases some of Durham’s most exciting and experienced talent.
Set in a tribal, patriarchal, and factionalised part of rural Spain, Federico Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding follows the tragic love triangle of the Bride (Charlie Culley) and her two lovers, the Groom (Oscar Nicholson) and Leonardo (Raphael Kris). This contemporary staging, directed by Nancy Meakin, brings evocative poetry into the modern theatre with exciting physical theatre and dynamic lighting.
It is this physicality that is the driving force of this show. The expressionism of the poetry is perfectly matched by both the choreographed and blocked sections of the performance, credit due, no doubt, to Amy Shelmerdine, movement director, as well as the confidence and professionalism of the cast. The opening scene in particular is a masterclass on tone-setting. The key to this is the courtship of Leonardo and the Bride, exceptionally carried out by Kris and Culley. The physicality and immediacy of their romance is breathtaking and underpins the emotional drive of the tragedy throughout.
The other standout performance is Adela Hernandez-Derbyshire as the Mother. Lorca’s Mother is sometimes overly austere; however, Hernandez-Derbyshire brings an elegant dignity to the character, breathing in life and humanity. Through the apparently cool exterior is a wife and a mother grieving, and never is this clearer than in the closing moments, where she particularly shone.
The use of lighting is also vital. The colour palette of the stage is pale — largely monochromatic costuming is used and the set is simple and white — which runs the risk of falling into the same trap as the recent Young Vic staging and becoming unappealingly visually insipid. However, the lighting design of Dragos Farcas is bold and engaging, bringing colour and intrigue into the desert landscape. It never takes away from the action, complementing the unconventional physical approach perfectly. The use of a projection to open the second act is also tactfully managed, and even with the overtly on-the-nose ‘love triangle’ in the images, the beauty of the cinematography ties itself well to the design of the show.
Equally unconventional is the absence of blackouts. During the transitions, low lights allow us to watch as the actors move the set pieces and props around. It is the sign of an exceptionally managed stage that this works unexpectedly well, relying on the skill of Stage Manager, Martin Ramalingam, and his team. The characteristic dynamism is maintained throughout, avoiding uncomfortably long pauses- that sense of unreality endures, never granting full entrance to this other world.
These scene changes are also mostly silent, the actors barefoot, and the set coated in sand. This is another strength of the piece- the careful management of silence and sound. The impressive opening scene is conducted entirely without dialogue and is so compelling that the move to speech is almost disappointing. Similarly, the moments of silence in and between the scenes brings both the increase of tension and moments of reflection. Meakin’s direction carefully encourages the drawing of individual conclusions without patronising.
Despite this, there are moments where these conclusions are confused. One particular instance is the recasting of the woodcutters, Death, and the Moon as burlesque ball attendees in a nod to Lorca’s gay identity. Representation is vital in theatre, without a doubt, however, I was left wondering if this was the correct approach. In a show that features heavily naturalistic acting, stripped-back costumes and staging, and a strong focus on the patriarchal elements of the show, the sudden appearance of the burlesque-ball attendees is jarring, particularly as it is never explained or grounded in the setting of the show. This is not to discredit the actors, who are amusing and ethereal, particularly Hidayat Malik in the Moon speech, but to raise the question if this moment in fact blurs and dilutes the other vital messages of grief, patriarchy, and generational violence.
Regardless of this, the performance as a whole is an enormous success. Every member of the cast confidently embodies their characters, the setting is different and exciting, and the use of tech and sound is assured and intelligent. Written in a time and place where both war and dictatorship hovered just around the corner, Blood Wedding is unexpectedly apt, and its strong advocation for peace and the abandonment of old rivalries is a welcome surprise in these tense times.
Image credit: Wrong Tree Theatre Company