Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Theatre review: Blood Wedding

The Faction conclude their current rep season with Lorca's Blood Wedding, a play which, as the title suggests, is steeped in violence. But it turns out to be the interval that commits the bloodiest crime of the evening. The Mother (Anna-Maria Nabirye) is preparing her son, the Bridegroom (Andrew Chevalier) for his marriage, but the happy occasion is overshadowed by her feeling of dread, made worse when she discovers the Bride (Derval Mellett) has an ex-lover, Leonardo (Jonny McPherson.) It's not the suggestion of impurity in her future daughter-in-law that worries her so much as the man's identity: Although Leonardo himself was not involved, his family killed the Groom's father and brother, years ago. The marriage still goes ahead, but when Leonardo arrives at the wedding it's clear he and the Bride are still in love with each other, and tragedy inevitably follows.

The expressionistic Blood Wedding seems a good match to the Faction's physical, ensemble-based performance style. Director Rachel Valentine Smith has configured the New Diorama in the round for the production, the audience on wooden kitchen chairs surrounding a stage area delineated by sand, with buckets, wheelbarrows and various farming tools providing all the sets and props needed.

The first half builds a hypnotic tension, a beautifully-sustained mood borne of the brutality of the text itself, the interjections of song (music by Thomas Whitelaw,) Martin Dewar's moody lighting and the frequent jumps between an air of celebration and a dread of what could go wrong. There's a few gripes as the style is never quite nailed down - Valentine Smith's conceit of having the whole cast sitting around the edges of the stage at all times like a silent chorus gets ditched unceremoniously about half an hour in - but for the most part I was sucked in by the piece's strangeness and how well the company gets to grips with it. And then comes one of my pet hates, the unnecessary interval (without it the show would have come in under 100 minutes, well within most audiences' attention span.) Usually this is just annoying, but sometimes it can derail a show.

And sadly this is what I felt happened here. After the wedding the Bride and Leonardo abscond and the Groom chases after them, at which point Lorca's writing takes a more overtly surreal turn with an anthropomorphised Moon (Richard Delaney) turning up in a straight-jacket, and Valentine Smith's direction also cranks up the movement theatre element. Women getting tied up in a giant cat's cradle and witches made of rakes and hoes look a bit "drama school" and the show started to lose me. And I actually think the second half's indulgences would have flowed a lot better straight after the ominous buildup of the first hour, but by letting all that tension dissipate over the interval, the sudden ramping-up of the show's oddness is left starkly exposed.

The performances don't lose their impetus, though. Nabirye has been the company's major find this year and the directors have used her well; here she commits completely to the Mother's pain, even before the tragic climax there's an air of having resigned herself to losing everything, but it still hits her devastatingly when it comes. Kate Sawyer as Leonardo's jilted wife also has some powerful moments, although Mellett doesn't quite match McPherson's passion as the two realise they can't be apart. With its large ensemble and anti-naturalistic style Blood Wedding seems perfectly suited to the Faction and in the first half proves so; unfortunately after the director manages to get some real atmosphere into the clinical New Diorama, she lets it slip through her fingers before the climax.

This three-play season has been a mixed bag overall; none of the productions have been among the company's best work but they've all had a lot of positives to recommend them. The addition of Chekhov to their repertoire seems to have given an additional dimension to their character work, and hopefully this rep season marks an interesting transitional phase to the company's work, rather than the finished product.

Blood Wedding by Federico García Lorca in a version by Gareth Jandrell is booking in repertory until the 23rd of February at the New Diorama Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes including interval.

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