Marlon Day and Jade Anouk
Poppy Burton Morgan’s production of Blood Wedding at the Southwark Playhouse has been uprooted from Lorca’s provincial Spanish location and replanted in some undefined corner of the Caribbean (it’s all the same right?) for, I assume a bit of 21st century spice.
This textual transformation works nicely retaining the cultural similarities, from the gossipy sun baked spinsters whose patter moves the action along, to the atmosphere of overpowering heat in the slow march towards the tragedy.
Based on the original text by Lorca (although loosely) the play springs off to a jovial start with the players acting as hosts and members of the audience become wedding guests tucking ourselves in with our complimentary glass of non alcoholic punch.
The bride’s sassy sister (Sophie Benjamin) then teaches us the words to a wedding ditty in which we are invited to participate at several points throughout the first half. The bride (Jade Anouka) is preparing for her wedding and is all too absent and tetchy and the audience is left to assume her mood has been punctured by the appearance of her one time love Leonardo, the smouldering (Marlon G Day) who swaggers in moodily. The tension between the two lover’s fizzes and cracks but Morgan misses the opportunity to symbolically illustrate the history behind the bitter chemistry. So rather than the romantic image of star-crossed lovers we are left with the superficiality of a plain –speaking, bickering couple from Albert Square- not what Lorca intended I am sure. The mother of the groom is played by the marvellous Naomi Wirthner whose woeful lament reveals the underlying threat of the underworld. Her husband was dragged to his death by gangs linked to the family of Leonardo and she fears the inevitability of her son (the groom) falling into the same fate.
Much of Wirthner’s dialogue is densely poetic and she brings a remarkable stillness to the role- a golden quality that many of the other actors lack. The set is cluttered with frivolous-looking props giving the impression of a school play. Although it’s fair to note the wedding theme is continually present throughout the first half, I felt there was a need for a more sophisticated dramatic device to suggest a change of mood or energy instead of the laboured scattering of chairs and party food.
In the second act when the bride abandons the groom and tears off with her old flame Leonardo, the hunt begins to stall the lovers. Trevor Michael Georges who up until this point plays the bride’s father now becomes the all-knowing, omnipresent moon whiting up his black face- which is horribly old hat. So with the “evil” moon in the sky we then have a procession of a few of the cast members becoming a kind of uniformed yet lyrically un-uniformed Greek chorus dressed as road workers- all white helmets and neon jackets, pre empting the lover’s fate. As they writhe around stuttering, sweeping and muttering, I can’t help feeling that I have never seen anything more sloppy in professional theatre in my entire life.
The climatic fight and death scene between Tai Lawrence’s earnest and spindly groom and lover Leonardo occurs off stage but as they slope off together both wearing hoods it became clear that the plays director decided this production should provide a nod to the horrendously high knife crime culture in London. This is all well and good and clearly topical but the unoriginal portrayal of it in this piece is dramatically passé.
Blood wedding is not a total disaster, it is watchable and there are some touching moments such as Amanda Posener’s beautiful and haunting singing. But I could not help but think that a bunch of good actors have been let down by a shallow translation of a historic text and a production swamped in clichés.
Blood Wedding was at the Southwark Playhouse until 15 August, 2009.