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★★★★ by Ifan Llewelyn

A love triangle, age-old rivalries and the heavy weight of maintaining a tribe’s honour. Lorca’s 1932 Blood Wedding is undeniably an engaging piece of theatre, with sex, family politics and tradition colliding in spectacular fashion to a tragic end. It’s the fist in the playwright’s rural trilogy, succeeded by Yerma that thrilled audiences and critics alike when revived in 2016, with Billie Piper dazzling in the titular role. Though not as character-driven as Yerma, the interplay between Blood Wedding’s cast of downcast characters is what sustains it. Yaël Farber’s production of Marina Farber’s translation at the Young Vic delivers on that interplay. The dynamics at play are evident and electrifying. This Irish spin on Lorca’s tragedy also delivers on punch and poetics.

Far from rural Spain, this production lays its roots over in Ireland. With Carr herself a daughter of rural Ireland, the work’s lyrical waxing feels at home in this setting. The plot is fairly straightforward. Groom plans to marry Bride, Bride’s still hung up over her ex Leonardo, Leonardo turns up at that wedding and the two run off together. Groom’s mother is suspicious from the outset since Groom’s betrothed Bride use to be involved with the clan who chopped her husband and son into bits on her kitchen floor. You know, real soap opera kind of stuff. The plot’s simplicity, an intentional move with characters creatively named “Mother” and “Woodcutter 1”, gives space for the production to contemplate and question the mechanisms at work beneath the surface.

We see that Bride has unresolved feelings for her old lover Leonardo, a member of the Felix tribe who were responsible for slaying Groom’s father and brother. Bride and Leonardo’s chemistry makes concrete the fact that they’re destined to run off together. Aoife Duffin’s Bride is a complicated character, seemingly strong and independent though devoted to her wife-beating lover Leonardo.  Gavin Drea’s Leonardo could be turned down a few notches, but the rage vibrating through his muscled torso has you shrinking in your seat.

Blood Wedding opens with Olwen Fouéré’s Mother wiping up a puddle of blood centre stage. It’s an interesting choice by South African director Farber that places her at the centre of the play’s action, while also calling into question the role of the mother. Fouéré delivers the production’s stand-out performance as a principled matriarch, a woman motivated by her blinding sense of honour. She commands attention from the minutes she steps barefoot onto the grey stage. Her trusty companion Housekeeper, delightfully portrayed by Annie Firbank, brings levity to the work that carries you through the 1-hour-50 no-interval performance.

This production feels grounded, that is until a black wire comes rattling from above and an actor spends a good minute fussing with a carabiner clip. The use of the aerial wire was unfortunate, throwing off the production’s good work in investing itself in a vigorous naturalism. An engaging back-and-forth feels rather silly when followed by a man swinging around on a wire. You’re also left questioning why the play’s figurative characters of Moon and Death (presented by the Weaver character) appear plainly throughout the play, but twice Leonardo is sent swinging around the stage on a wire.

“Fouéré delivers the production’s stand-out performance as the principled matriarch.” Mother (Olwen Fouéré) in Blood Wedding at the Young Vic. Photo by Marc Brenner.

Perhaps these aerial sequences could’ve been better spent foregrounding the work’s contemporary relevance. Tribalism could easily be translated into xenophobia. A play about a woman’s yearning for freedom from social conventions, set in Ireland, is calling out to comment on a woman’s bodily autonomy. There’s also crucifix which hangs in the opening scene implicating Catholicism which re-appears when a rosary is gifted to Bride. Wife of Leonardo, perhaps the best figure to explore this, is trapped in her disastrous marriage by a son with another on the way, but Scarlett Brookes’ wild and feral demeanour draws little sympathy.

A homoerotic topless knife fighting scene comprises the Blood Wedding’s crescendo, with the weapons finding themselves thrusting from the groin giving a subtle nod to a line that is later spoken. The line suggests that the feuding men didn’t truly want Bride, but in fact wanted each other. A fleeting comment that flies under the radar though speaks volumes about the toxic masculinity that drives this tragedy.

Blood Wedding Young Vic review
Groom (David Walmsley) in Blood Wedding at the Young Vic. Photo by Marc Brenner.

Blood Wedding is running at the Young Vic, Lambeth SE1 8LZ until 12th November. Tickets at YoungVic.org.

 

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