Circa Theatre
May 9-June 6 | Reviewed by Helen Sims

FROM THE MOMENT you walk into Circa’s main auditorium for the Willem Wassenar directed English language version of Lorca’s play Blood Wedding you know you are in for something different. First to strike you is how the stage is stripped back – even the black curtains on the back walls are tied back, as if the designer (Andrew Foster) is laying the theatre bare. The cast sit on assorted chairs or mill about in a loose semi circle – the sense that they are waiting for the performance to begin just as much as we are is heightened by the circle dramatically drawn in sand before the play itself commences. Outside the ring the actors wait and watch casually, but once they step into the ring you are assaulted with passionate and raw performance. Part theatre, part flamenco, part violent passion of the bull ring, Wassenar, the designers and the actors in this production offer an incredibly dramatic, non-naturalistic, and incredibly Spanish show, despite the English translation.

Apparently Lorca’s inspiration came from an account of a bride who eloped with a former lover on the night before her wedding. However, the scars of the Spanish Civil War are evident – the stakes are raised by having her former lover, Leonardo (Dean O’Gorman) and her Groom (Jade Daniels) come from warring families. The history of the family dispute is recounted portentously by the Groom’s Mother (Geraldine Brophy) in the first scene after she refuses to give her son a knife. The Bride (Rachel Forman) even goes through with the financially lucrative wedding, rejecting Leonardo before the wedding, only to disappear with him during the celebrations, leaving her Father (Peter Hambleton), her new husband and the pregnant wife of Leonardo (Sophie Roberts) distraught. The implications for their family honour, not to mention their lives, are clear – they will die for the shame they have caused.

The certainty that blood will be spilled (if it wasn’t already evident from the title) is explored in an unusual scene in which the actress that has been playing Leonardo’s wife (Roberts) assumes the character of the vengeful and bloodthirsty Moon and her Mother/Leonardo’s Mother in Law (a magnificent Carmel McGlone) becomes the ever hungry figure of death. Although this scene has been criticised in previous productions as being confusing, I thought it added to the symbolism already inherent in the play, although Roberts did have a tendency to shout some of her lines. This was a failing common to Roberts, O’Gorman and Forman – their performances started with so much passion it did not leave them with room to build over the course of a scene. By contrast, Brophy, McGlone and Micelle Amas as a lively servant deliver stunning performances; with McGlone’s flamenco style singing to Gareth Farr’s typically excellent score a real highlight for me. The cast is fleshed out by four actors from the Long Cloud Youth Theatre group, who inject youthful enthusiasm and energy in their supporting roles. The one actor that I did feel was misdirected and underutilised was Peter Hambleton as the Bride’s Father. His considerable talents did not show through in the bombastic portrayal of this character.

Love and romance do not drive this story. If you have ever seen flamenco then you will understand far more about the approach to this production. The performances are passionate, consummate but also austere – audience participation is prohibited and connection is not invited. There are small moments of contact in this production (after all, it is not a flamenco show) but overall we must simply sit and be delivered the story. The fact that the characters are emblematic and/or symbolic is reinforced by Lorca’s decision not to name any of them except Leonardo – and this is reinforced by the largely blank stage. Some will not like this approach and will want to empathise. However, I found the production stunning – minor flaws were entirely overcome by strength in design, direction and performance. It was also refreshing to see a production so markedly different on the Circa main stage.