Thursday 23 April 2015

Blood Wedding – Everyman, Liverpool

[seen 22/04/15]

Watching this version of Blood Wedding – and *version* it most definitely is – I was struck by the realisation that Graeae are pretty much *the* blueprint for what I wish Mainstream British Theatre was like. Consider this production: David Ireland’s take on Lorca’s text almost entirely does away with any attempt to find an equivalent for the floaty poetic original, and instead replaces most of the speaking with the bluntest possible exchanges needed to move the same plot forward, supplemented with remarkable sexual frankness and precisely the references to Facebook and mobile phones with which modern life is filled. Meanwhile Jenny Sealey’s production – inextriably linked to Lisa Sangster’s design – offers a way of playing the text which nimbly hops between demotic naturalism and a kind of post-Brechtian European arthouse style without ever feeling like it’s doing anything even remotely so wanky. At the same time, the company offers more British national and regional voices than you hear over a whole season at the National, is effortlessly mixed race (but emphatically *not* colour-“blind”), and, oh yes, several of the actors are disabled too. Ireland has also written this into the script with delighted, frequently very funny, frankness, offering the same sorts of jokes, but with infinitely richer returns on them, as last year’s Fringe-turkey I Promise You Sex and Violence.

In terms of putting a bomb under a classic, it almost makes Carmen Disruption look suddenly timid. What we get here is: the plot of the original; an updating of it, a stage picture of the multicultural (and multi-national – Graeae co-produce with Dundee Rep) society we actually live in; and a kind of deconstruction of what the hell Lorca was up to in the first place. After all, the plot is the stuff of Eastenders: man with murdered brother and father is marrying a woman who is having an affair with the nephew of their murderer. In this version the bride’s parents are ineffably reasonable Scots, while the groom’s deaf mother feels like she alone has come, virtually unaltered, from the rural, Spanish, Catholic, almost classical-tragedy original. What she’s signing seems to come straight from Lorca. I’ve no idea if her deafness is intended to double as a metaphor for her grief, but it’s an evocative and readily available reading.

Apart from the obviously updated script and the nicely abstract (if a bit too *clean* for my money) set, I think part of what makes this production so brilliantly contemporary is the way that Graeae use language. Because of their status as “a disabled company”, their default way of treating a stage – incorporating surtitles and signing for the deaf and plentiful audio-description for the blind *as a matter of course* – means that at any given moment about three languages are being used simultaneously. As an approach it simply makes all of us *read* the stage more carefully. As a result, it effortlessly aces the kind of stage semiotics that some “visual theatre” companies are still struggling with after more than a decade. Indeed, the whole reminded me more than anything of Frank Castorf’s celebrated destructions of Chekhov at the Volksbühne.

And the cast are great. Rather than the hideous declamatory thing I imagine trad. British productions end up with – attempts to wring every ounce of “Spanish passion” from a bunch of etiolated RADA graduates – here everyone behaves like the everyday Brits they are; mostly substituting irony, sarcasm and self-deprecation for wild hair-tearing and Mediterranean passion. It’s also brilliant that Ireland’s script directly addresses every “elephant in the room” regarding disability. That this is a play in which two black men are fighting over a white Scottish girl in a wheelchair with what I’d guess is sacral agenesis – essentially, no legs – does not politely escape comment. Nor does the white mother’s deafness, or the black aunt’s height. Indeed, given Britain’s propensity for embarrassment at saying the wrong thing, Graeae and Ireland have almost contrived to give the titular wedding not only a tragic dimension, but also a farcical one, both running concurrently. The deaf mother from Lorca, for example, repeatedly – in sign language – calls the daughter a whore, while the daughter’s father says all the wrong things to the deaf mother. To their mutual incomprehension. Jokes about racism and political correctness abound. And yet, all that is merely window dressing for the actual narrative about forbidden love, passion, the question of who the daughter really loves, and this almost savage blood feud that hangs over the families.

The ending of the Lorca is probably stranger than this – the moon is credited as a speaking character in the original – but Ireland/Seeley nonetheless find a stylish solution to the increasing abstraction. Two tramps on a suddenly miked stage – replete with echo-effect – comment on the action as the jilted groom hunts down his wife and her seducer and reflect on the strangeness of desire. So, yes. I look forward to the day when this level of textual and visual interrogation of a piece, and this extent of diversity-of-casting, comes as standard in British theatre. And I don’t think it’s fanciful to imagine it’s so far off now.


Anonymous said...

sounds horrifically destructive of the beauty and poetic brilliance of our heroic poet hiss ! Graeae do the same thing over n over whether its Brecht or Lorca ..shameful waste

Andrew Haydon said...

"our heroic poet"?

You're Spanish then?

But, beyond that, I don't know how many times this needs saying: one production of a particular version of a particular play doesn't "horrifically destroy" anything. Go to your copy of Blood Wedding now. Look at it. Is it ok? Beauty and poetic brilliance still intact? Could you put on a production of it to your taste right now if you wanted? Ok. Good. Panic over.

Re: Brecht - well, a) he also needs to be translated, b) he made a career out of "destroying" other people's plays for his own ends, and wanted people to do exactly the same to his.

Re: "Graeae do the same thing over n over"

I'd say they have a coherent style as a company. I disagree that they "do the same thing over n over".