That stylisation is not entirely a production choice, although director Rufus Norris and adapter Tanya Ronder do much to heighten it. Lorca was a celebrated poet as well as a dramatist and a close associate of other Spanish avant-gardists like artist Salvador Dali and filmmaker Luis Bunuel. His original script for this 1933 play, about a bride who runs away with her former lover on her wedding day, includes large chunks of verse, injections of music and characterisations of Death and the Moon.
In an introduction to the new playtext, Ronder pinpoints the perennial problem with translations of this and other Lorca plays – in English, his fiery Spanish passion can easily sound melodramatic. She has risen to the challenge, which she likens to “skinning eels”, admirably. Her pruned-down version retains some beautifully crafted phrases (“My son’s from good seed…. His father could have planted me a whole crop of sons” boasts the mother of the groom) but releases primary poetic responsibility to the production as a whole.
On that front, as one would expect of the multi award-winning director of Festen, Norris scores top marks for invention. On Katrina Lindsay’s bare set, lace curtains provide a veil behind which much of the action is silhouetted – even in moments of celebration, the characters appear as mere shadows of themselves. The effect is made all the more startling by Tim Mitchell’s dramatic lighting, deepening into the bloody red of the title, while Paul Arditti’s soundscape of chimes, whistles and electric static enhance the feeling of other-worldliness.
Less effective is Norris’ decision to enlarge the role of Death (Daniel Cerqueira), who stalks proceedings from the opening scene when, in Bunuelesque fashion, he walks on stage backwards, reverses his pinstripe jacket and slices himself out of a wig that covers his face. The trapeze risings and fallings of the Moon (Assly Zandry), naked but for some glitter paint, also feel excessive.
Of course, no disrespect to Lorca or Norris, but it’s the casting that’s assured this Blood Wedding was a sell-out months before rehearsals even began. As Leonardo, the play’s only named character and the one who drives the tragedy, Motorcycle Diaries star Gael Garcia Bernal is a little firecracker; but, though engaging, the part demands a more explosive impact than he seems able to bring to it.
Elsewhere, Norris has assembled an intriguingly international cast – including Dutch Thekla Reuten (as the fiery Bride), Icelandic Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson (the handsome Groom), Irish Rosaleen Linehan (the constantly bereaved Mother) and English Lyndsey Marshal (the jilted Wife) – who prove adept at mining the piece for both its pathos and its poetry.